LILA 2023 Special Mention in Private Gardens


Estudio Ome again receives recognition with a lush garden, and the jury was impressed by Ome’s ability to blur the margins between the ‘wild’ and the ‘tamed’. The garden establishes a firm and fitting relation between the geometry of the architecture, new features and the forest. The designers added the notion of ‘ruin’, where the intention was to render some new structures rapidly overgrown by the lush vegetation as if they were historic remains being rediscovered. This is achieved carefully through vegetation letting it kick in and, formally, by just the right amount of suggestion that doesn’t feel overdone at all. Or, in the words of the designers, they questioned ‘how the landscape project could possibly disappear with time or reappear when used’. Such a design statement reflects a mature attitude where playfulness also embeds a much larger question of the temporality of the garden.

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Ruins Garden

Ruins Garden sits 2,184 metres above sea level in the oak and pine tree forests of Mexico. In the 1.7 hectares site, a self-sufficient house studio requiring a rainwater cistern, was to be built.

First discoveries

The first site visit took place in October, a month full of wild flowers; just after the rainy season had brought plenty of water for the plants to rapidly develop. Entering the land, we quickly felt a strong contrast in between an existing wild blooming prairie and a rich pine tree forest covering 60% of the land. The wilderness, the sensation of a place only lived by plants and animals made us question how the landscape project could possibly disappear with time or reappear when used. How to create a place that you rediscover each time you come?

Ruin:

The idea of working with an overgrown ruin landscape of local stones came instantly. Stone is a material that once placed in a garden barely moves and enhances vegetation variations, but also changes its aspect when in contact or submerged in water. Three types of stone paths were designed depending on the intensity of its use. What they have in common is the wish for the vegetation to grow in between their stones and a strong pattern to create the sensation of being rediscovered, just as archaeologists would find an ancient stone floor. Within the stone layout, the largest pieces were used to mark thresholds towards a door or a step. Long thin ones draw concentric lines that follows the house shape. Two types of walls complement the paths, simulating the effect of time, some have a missing layer of stones and some show collapses. The domestic scale of the stone terraces and walls allows a timeless transition and soft limits between the new architecture and the untamed landscape.

Amphitheatre:

At the edge of the forest, the house is surrounded by a series of low stone walls and a large main terrace that completes the semi-circular house. They become the open and everchanging stage for its inhabitants and a playful space for theatre or performance, bringing outdoor uses to the artist’s studio. Young flowering trees such as the black cherry tree were planted in dense groups together with herbal and medicinal plants that can be used in the kitchen. A concrete sink and a barbecue were also designed and integrated into the walls. The endemic Quercus laurina was chosen to be the central oak tree for the main terrace, giving a light and delicate shadow to the bright surface.

Rain

Rain water is harvested from surface run-off water and the house roof. A collection of ditches along the stone path gathers and leads the valuable water towards the lake. A main challenge for the project was the open cistern, or imagining a large water space that can be used but also fit within the existing landscape and the project’s concepts. Due to the long dry season in Mexico, the water evaporation and reduction was thought to be a constrain and an opportunity as well. How would the lake look like when the water reaches its lowest level? Within the existing prairie, a circular water scape felt right, bringing a new centre to forest edge. Its shape was inspired by the circular Peruvian farming site Moray. A series of stone rings show the water evaporation and the wet garden planted at each level; and during the rain season becomes a mirror to the forest. The last and deepest basin defines the lowest level the lake could have and can still be used as a pool. Each circle defines a specific microclimate for underwater plants and gives an easy access to courageous swimmers.

Forest

A wooden gate to the forest was built to give an entrance to the thick forest reserve. Inspired by the prehispanic Mayan shape of stone gates, the high threshold marks the beginning of a different journey and can be seen from long distance, reminded of the Japanese Tori. Once under the trees, a long wooden walkway follows one same level, giving the soft experience of walking flat but observing the change of topography around the hiker.  The hard wood structure is elevated, allowing water to run and plants to grow, respecting the alive soil.

Groves

With the pandemic, the project took more than a couple of years to be designed and built, allowing new concepts to come during the building process. The construction site had extended and opened up larger areas around the future house than planned. The need to get a shrub and tree layers back transformed the original planting plans. Pockets of group of trees where planted around the house, with some complementary shrubs such as blueberries under the alders Alnus acuminata, creating scenes of a dense young forest around the house.

The photographs show a winter landscape, recently left by the architects, landscape architects, gardeners and contractors. Now ready to surrender to time and growth.

Project Data

Landscape Architecture: Estudio Ome 

Water engineering: Taller Nuevos Territorios

Architecture: Rozana Montiel Estudio de Arquitectura & Claudia Rodríguez

Location: Valle de Bravo, Mexico

Design year: 2019

Year Completed: 2022

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