A Sky-High Tropical Paradise

One Towering Secret Garden Takes Landscape Architecture To New Heights On This Amazing Rooftop Terrace In Coconut Grove

Story Credits

Landscape Architecture
Raymond Jungles, along with project manager Marcelo Garcia Ferrer, Raymond Jungles, Inc., Miami, FL
Steven Brooke, Miami, FL
Text by
Robin Gelfand
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Typically, gardens come in almost as many varieties as the plant species that comprise them, but if there’s one thing they all have in common, it’s that they spring from the earth. Rich soil, accessible irrigation and optimal exposure to sunlight — these are just a few things that make a garden grow. So how do you transform a concrete jungle into the Garden of Eden? Therein lies the dilemma that might have caused seasoned landscape architect Raymond Jungles to pass on a project that required him to build a flourishing tropical paradise atop the 34th floor of the Grovenor House apartment building in Miami’s Coconut Grove.

“I was initially hesitant,” Jungles says. “Rooftop gardens are a real handful because there’s a lot that can go wrong.” However, he could hardly refuse the owner of this two-story penthouse home — Ella Fontanals-Cisneros — prominent philanthropist, art patron and frequent hostess to parties large and small, as well as an established client with whom he says he shares many of the same sensibilities as far as aesthetics go. Still, many logistical obstacles needed to be resolved: wind, sun, salt, the need to waterproof and the absence of real soil. But with a wealth of experience, a number of awards and a team of experts in his arsenal, including his talented project manager, Marcelo Ferrer, Jungles was up to the new challenge. “I have a reputation of understanding architecture, not just planting, and this project was as much about architecture as it was about planting,” says Jungles, who has always had an instinctive love of the outdoors — a passion that has helped him perfect his craft.

Taking the natural building blocks of a garden, Jungles incorporated wood, stone, water and plants, and arranged them so that upon what was once barren, a living, breathing enchanted forest now exists, filled with a variety of durable and low-maintenance foliage, both native and tropical. Nature meets architecture throughout the rooftop garden, as in the stacked black-pearl basalt water wall that greets guests at the entrance and repeats as a background to the newly designed pool. A touch of modernity is seen in a stainless steel cable grid that runs the length of the nearby 18-foot wall. Ipé wood covers the re-designed pool area and leads to al fresco lounging, dining and kitchen areas. Here, the same light and dark granite used inside the home is arranged in a simple flooring pattern bordered in limestone to emphasize linearity and unify the roof space with the Luis Bustamente-designed interiors below, thus linking the two together.

Jungles understood one of the most important accomplishments was attaining a level of believability, so that whether it’s two people or 40 enjoying what he calls “an outdoor living room,” it would feel like a thriving natural environment, not something fabricated. Equally important was controlling the large, L-shaped space, which stands at just over 2,500 square feet, so that it wasn’t overwhelming. “We imparted a human scale to a place that virtually had none,” he says of bringing in a mix of horizontal elements. “Emphasizing horizontality brings the eye down. Otherwise, it just shoots off into space.”

In the end, Jungles describes the lush garden rooftop experience as “exhilarating,” due in no small part to being 34 stories up, and featuring 270 degrees of unobstructed water views of Sailboat Bay. “It feels a little precarious and yet it’s totally safe,” he says. “Even though it’s wide-open, there is a sense of enclosure.” Good to know a guest wouldn’t have to check his fear of heights at the door.