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American Society of Landscape Architects


September 2008 Issue

Fractals of Nature
The renovated Botanical Gardens of Medellín meld with the city and play with natural forms.

By Jimena Martignoni

Fractals of Nature
Photography by Carlos Tobón

In August, the month of la Feria de las Flores—the Flower Fair—in Medellín, Colombia, the city’s botanical gardens turn into a spectacular floral gallery. People from all parts of the city stroll through the exotic display, and others take in the bonanza of color, form, and scent from the paths skirting the gardens’ screen fence.

This wasn’t always the case. Until 2005, a fortresslike concrete wall, more than 10 feet high and covered with graffiti, closed off the gardens’ sights and aromas from the surrounding neighborhood, known for poverty and violence. But in that year, the city knocked down the unsightly barrier—an event locally known as “the fall of the wall”—and replaced it with a nearly transparent screen fence that allows passersby to share the sights and smells of the gardens. As part of the same project, the city, together with the botanical gardens’ owners, also renovated the orquideario or orchid garden and added new public open space around the botanical gardens’ core.

Lorenzo Castro, an architect from Bogotá whose urban park projects include the successful Water Park in Bucaramanga (see “Celebration of Water,” Landscape Architecture, May 2007), and Ana Elvira Vélez, a local architect involved in the renaissance of Medellín’s vibrant urban scene, designed the fence. The design introduces a bold graphic element, a repeating series of slanting steel beams between vertical posts framing wire-mesh panels. Painted black, the fence is constructed in units that rise and fall with the undulating surface of the land. Though it was completed after the orchid display, this element, because of its symbolic value, is seen as the first real statement of the site’s integration with the city.

The decisions to open the gardens to public view and redesign the aging orchid display were part of the city’s ambitious program of social and political change for the new millennium. The botanical gardens are among several strategic landscape projects intended to rehabilitate Medellín’s long-neglected north side: Parque de los Deseos (see “A Desire for Change,” Landscape Architecture, April 2007), a new public gathering space for cultural and recreational activities; Parque Norte, a more bucolic and classic park; and Explora, a cultural complex that integrates museums and open spaces.

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