Raymond Jungles, landscape architect of harmonious and sustainable gardens all around Miami, explains how the work of his Brazilian mentor Roberto Burle Marx inspires him to strive for a landscaped environment that’s both comprehensible and casual.
ARQ: Landscape architecture has come into the much-deserved spotlight recently and landscape architecture elements are being incorporated into all kinds of things, from facades to interiors and even fashion accessories. What do you think of that merger and what do you think of landscape architecture coming into the spotlight?
Raymond: First, let me say that my mentor, Roberto Burle Marx, was designing jewelry and clothing and everything back in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, so it’s not something new. He got his hands involved in anything because he’s a creative genius and I think that anybody who’s very creative, whether they’re a fashion designer or whether they’re an architect or a painter or a musician, is going to have strong interests and strong tastes in other creative fields. So what do I feel about landscape architecture all of a sudden getting more of the spotlight? I think that we really are an unsung profession that in the past, our clientele were just the upper, upper echelon, so not many people knew about what landscape architecture did. Now if you go to Brazil, you see the impact that a guy like Burle Marx had on the general populace, where all the cab drivers knew him, all the custom guys knew him, everybody knew him because he was an outspoken proponent of saving the beautiful natural environment of Brazil.
I think one of the reasons that landscape architects are getting more press is because more people are paying attention to what we’ve always paid attention to. We’ve always been the green profession; we’ve always tried to create habitat and design with nature. So I think that people are getting concerned about the planet that they live on, and the sustainability of the planet with global warming, which is real. I think we all share this planet and we’re just in a very great profession where we get to deal with nature on a daily basis. And I was thinking it’d be nice to have a weekend off, but then I look at these photographs of these incredible specimen trees that I’m able to actually buy and use on my projects, and I was like, that’s an honor to be able to do things like this, so I should stop whining.
ARQ: Burle Marx’s landscape architecture has a lot of patterning, and that patterning has some relationship to the patterning that one finds in façade design or in fashion design. More so, maybe, than to the work of other landscape architects?
Raymond: No doubt, however my favorite work that Roberto did is not the work that was so strongly graphic that he became famous for. One project in particular: Sitio Burle Marx. It’s more subtle, it’s more wild, it’s more natural, it’s more carefree. His own garden was not a Burle Marx garden. He’s been accused of painting with plants, but what he wanted to make sure is that the intentions of his design were understood, so by making it comprehensible, people could maintain it like that. He was really a lover of plants above all things and he loved to try to show them in a way so that you could really see the characteristics of the plants. If you look at my gardens that I think are the most successful, they’re the ones that look almost like nobody did anything but the hardscape’s always strong. It’s got to be defined, because if everything goes to hell, I want someone to at least be able come into a space and say, “There’s order here. This is a nice ruin.” And so we kind of jumpstart the ruin part.
ARQ: So if landscape architecture can become part of one’s personal style, whether it’s a preference for minimal landscapes or lush gardens or period pieces, how would you say that your design reflects your personal style, and what are you trying to project with your landscapes? What’s the broader message embedded in your work?
Raymond: Well, I’d say the broader message is that I love nature and that it’s my inspiration. I’m very happy if a garden takes little to no maintenance, is as sustainable as possible and is a place that gives people joy—that birds and butterflies come into it, and it’s alive, and it gets better every year. Really, that’s the main emphasis of my work. I’ve found a way to make a living where I’m able to express my philosophy of the love of nature, and people seem to resonate toward that—not everybody, a lot of people don’t like my work at all, but that’s okay because design and art are personal things. I’m very fortunate that I have a lot of people who do like my work so that I don’t have to fight that battle like I used to. I’m getting a lot of great opportunities to do what I like to do on a larger scale, and now I’ve got people like Shohei beginning to envy my freedom! And, by the way, I can’t tell you how many of my clients are these really highly successful people that are really closet landscape architects. They just love the profession, they’re jealous of what I get to do for a living, but we have fun together. They get to vicariously enjoy the profession by hiring me and working together.
ARQ: How do you think that landscape architecture is informing those other areas of design that you’re interested in?
Raymond: The way I like to think when I’m doing a garden, I need to understand the architecture and I need to understand the interior and I need to understand the client’s program. I’m successful if it looks like it was all done by one person. If the garden looks like it was done by the architect, and the architect feels like he’s been involved in the garden, then there’s this unity of everything, a harmony in everything, so I guess harmony’s the big word. I like fashion that harmonizes with the person who’s wearing it. I think that someone who is wearing ridiculous-looking clothes looks ridiculous and there’s no harmony there. But you know what, some people really enjoy that, so you know what, go ahead and do it. I had long hair for 20-something years.
ARQ: I was just saying I wish you still had long hair.
Raymond: Me too. Because you know what? If I had hair, I would have long hair, because I’m basically a long-haired guy, you know?
ARQ: That’s amazing.
Jungles: It’s like the old Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song where they’re talking about how he almost cut his hair but he didn’t because he felt like he owed it to somebody, that he had to let his freak flag fly. And a lot of the time, I was the only guy in shorts in meetings with all these guys in suits and ties, but that’s because I could. I still can, but I try not to be as casual because I don’t let everybody else be that casual. I think that people should all have the same guidelines.
ARQ: See, that’s why I had no compunction about coming with flip-flops to your office.
Raymond: Yeah, you don’t need heels here, that’s for sure.