If you are in Miami and see the lush gardens on the rooftop of Frank Gehry’s New World Symphony, or the grounds around the Grove at Grand Bay by Bjarke Ingels Group, you are looking at the work of Raymond Jungles. The landscape architect’s practice, based in Miami’s Coconut Grove, is known for its vibrant native plants, often arranged in curvilinear patterns evocative of the work of the late Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Jungles has also taken on a very unexpected assignment: overhauling the garden that Dan Kiley originally conceived in 1967 for the atrium of the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice in New York. The garden is part of a renovation that Gensler undertook for the landmark designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates. Jungles’s knowledge of subtropical plants helped him meet the challenge of choosing botanical specimens that would thrive indoors in a temperate climate. RECORD talked to Jungles about the trajectory of his career.
About your last name—Jungles. It’s perfect, but what was it originally?
It’s my real surname. I was born in Omaha, and my father’s family came from Germany, where it was spelled Jungels or Junglas.
In the name-as-destiny department, how did you end up as a landscape architect in Miami, with its, well, jungle-like vegetation?
I got interested in plants in high school in Columbus, Ohio, and began working part-time in a nursery. When I got out, I headed for Florida to do more of the same thing. Soon I entered a community college, and then transferred to the University of Florida at Gainesville, where I studied landscape design in the architecture school. I was very interested in environmental concerns: Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature was extremely influential‚ and still is today in my work.
While you were in college, you began developing your particularly exuberant approach to gardens. How did that happen?
I was influenced a lot by Roberto Burle Marx—from the time I heard him lecture at the University of Florida. After graduation in 1981, I got to know him when he had some work in Miami. He said, “Come to Rio de Janeiro,” which I did, a number of times, and just followed him around. When Burle Marx came to Miami, he would give me crits on my gardens. His designs could be graphic and bold, but softened by his plants.
In the last 15 or so years, you have received very notable commissions, working with high-profile architects. What brought about this direction?
I began with gardens for private houses, which I still take on. As I got better known, developers started noticing. About 10 years ago, they began hiring architects from out of town, such as Herzog & de Meuron for the sky garden at 1111 Lincoln Drive, and turned to me for the landscaping. It was a good time to be in Miami.
How did the Ford Foundation project in New York come about?
I was interviewed because of a referral from a Foundation board member. Normally I stay away from designing interior gardens. They need to be well maintained, since plants don’t live well in conditioned environments. But I couldn’t turn down this one! The Ford Foundation proved to be a great research opportunity. I may take on more interior gardens, depending on certain factors. We are busy, with a staff of 23, including 17 professionals.
What are you working on now?
I recently finished the landscape for Brice and Helen Marden’s small Golden Rock Inn in Nevis [in the Caribbean]. And our firm is designing a tropical garden as part of the Burle Marx show opening at the New York Botanical Garden [in the Bronx] in June. On a larger scale, we are doing the gardens for KPF’s condominium project, Water Street Tampa, and we just finished Faena House Condominiums in Miami by Foster + Partners.
Did you ever think of becoming an architect?
I was encouraged to think about it in college. I really love architecture. But this way I get to work with all these great architects and learn from them as part of our collaboration. If I were an architect, I wouldn’t get to meet and talk with all of them.