The engineer, the gardener and the architect

A botanical garden designed by Tatiana Bilbao provides an ideal way to bring contemporary art out of the silent rooms of museums and closer to the people.

"Let's accept the role of gardener as being equal in dignity to the role of architect." —Brian Eno

Not long ago, during one of the big round-table discussions organised by Hans-Ulrich Obrist in the pavilion-garden of the Serpentine Gallery in London, the musician, producer and artist Brian Eno explained his understanding of how a musical composition is created, beginning with his interpretation of the differences between an architect and a gardener.

"An architect," he said, "at least in the traditional sense, is somebody who has an in-detail concept of the final result in their head, and their task is to control the rest of nature sufficiently to get that built." "An architect," he added, "subjects everything to an effort of control." A gardener, on the other hand, "works in collaboration with the complex and unpredictable processes of nature." It's in the nature of gardens. None of them, not even the mythical Garden of Eden, paradise itself, can be created or controlled down to the finest detail. A garden can be carefully planted with some rather well-selected seeds, hopefully, which should then take root, grow and maybe develop into something resembling the original idea.

Carlos Murillo, an engineer by training who later become an architect and gardener by vocation, was born in 1925 in Culiacán, the capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa known for its extreme climate. He graduated in 1948 from the University of Guadalajara with a degree in engineering because the city's School of Architecture would only be founded a year later, in 1949, by Ignacio Díaz Morales and other renowned local architects. Returning to Culiacán in the 1950s, Murillo received his first commission: a house for Francisco Ritz that exhibited the clear influences of international architecture in Mexico, with its self-standing walls, large windows and flat roof. The house also included a patio with a garden.
Founded in 1986 by Carlos
Murillo Depraect, the park
covers an area of about 10
acres and houses more than
1,000 different plant species.
With a population of over
one million inhabitants, the
Mexican city of Culiacán is
located 80 km inland from the
Pacific Ocean.
Founded in 1986 by Carlos Murillo Depraect, the park covers an area of about 10 acres and houses more than 1,000 different plant species. With a population of over one million inhabitants, the Mexican city of Culiacán is located 80 km inland from the Pacific Ocean.
Gardens would eventually evolve into Murillo's passion and speciality as he continued to design homes enlivened by flower-filled spaces until, in 1986, he was able to convince the then governor of the state to allocate a plot of land near the university for the construction of the Botanical Garden of Culiacán. Gradually, Murillo not only transformed the grounds into a garden, but also into an area for educational purposes. In the 1990s, a local entrepreneur by the name of Agustín Coppel hired Murillo to design a system of gardens for a subdivision that was being planned. The relationship between the two would culminate in a partnership that brought together Murillo's collection of plants and the art collection of Isabel and Agustín Coppel. Today the park not only includes over 1,000 species of plants, but also artworks by 35 contemporary artists under the curatorship of Patrick Charpenel.

The “game is over”. Alÿs tells
the following story: “On 20
March 2011, I left Mexico City
in my VW Beetle and drove
up north to Culiacán. Upon
arrival, I crashed my car into
a tree in the Botanical Garden.
Nature will do the rest”
The “game is over”. Alÿs tells the following story: “On 20 March 2011, I left Mexico City in my VW Beetle and drove up north to Culiacán. Upon arrival, I crashed my car into a tree in the Botanical Garden. Nature will do the rest”
As befits a garden, the Botanical Garden of Culiacán has grown and changed over time—a fundamental characteristic of Murillo's idea about landscape, says Coppel. The spatial organisation and construction of service buildings, necessary to both the collection of plants as well as the works of art, was commissioned to the studio of Tatiana Bilbao, which, after Murillo's death, continued his work on the design and organisation of the park with the Taller de Operaciones Ambientales.

Like the garden encompassing it, the project is a work in progress, open-ended, firm in its intention yet flexible in the details
The educational centre.
Divided into three separate
volumes, it contains a
classroom and an auditorium
for educational activities
The educational centre. Divided into three separate volumes, it contains a classroom and an auditorium for educational activities
Tatiana Bilbao's first task was to organise the Botanical Garden's separate areas along a series of walkways. After experimenting with several methods for laying out the areas, the one that was chosen justified, in a sense, a certain lack of method or, rather, an abstract method that can only be ascertained when viewed from a distance, high above the ground. In a garden that has already been completed, or more precisely one that is undergoing a gradual process of evolution, the ideal way to design pathways is by walking through it, by repeatedly searching for and discovering its most pleasant walkways, which can then serve to organise the overall space. The strategy ultimately adopted was to superimpose the blurry image of tree branches selected at random from the garden over the general plan of the Botanical Garden itself, and then work out the walkways that were suggested with the garden's existing layout.

Vargas Lugo hung a concrete
and iron star among the
stalks of bamboo. Despite
its solid physical presence,
the structure seems to be
fragmented by the force of the
foliage
Vargas Lugo hung a concrete and iron star among the stalks of bamboo. Despite its solid physical presence, the structure seems to be fragmented by the force of the foliage
The paths that emerged from this process generated distinct areas in which the different plant species were installed, together with the 35 works by artists such as Dan Graham, Richard Long, Teresa Margolles, Tercerunquinto, Francis Alÿs and Olafur Eliasson, among many others.

The interstices between the various areas house several service buildings: three units for educational facilities and a small outdoor auditorium. Apparently built with impeccable care, these monolithic and distorted structures follow non-orthogonal ideas without resorting to facile special effects. These pleasant and light bunkers have no intention of blending in with their surroundings, nor with their compositional strategies, nor even with the final result. At the same time, however, they don't strive to provide stark contrasts. Even though austere, it's difficult to classify them as "minimal", which, although in vogue for several years now, is a label that actually explains very little.

A 70-seat open-air
auditorium welcomes visitors
to the park with a 7-minute
video explaining the genesis
and organisation of the
Botanical Garden
A 70-seat open-air auditorium welcomes visitors to the park with a 7-minute video explaining the genesis and organisation of the Botanical Garden
The project is still in progress, both in terms of realising elements of the original plan, as well as the design and development of new ones. The latter reflect the studio's current interests, and will no longer be massive rock-like structures that avoid right angles at all costs. Rather, they follow the simple, even iconic forms that Tatiana Bilbao defines as "pre-described" geometries.

So the project continues to grow and, in a certain sense, be cultivated. Like the garden encompassing it, it is a work in progress, open-ended, firm in its intention yet flexible in the details. A project where architecture is learning from an engineer who became a gardener. Alejandro Hernández Gálvez (@otrootroblog) is an architect and a critic.
Garden rubbish was used by
the collective Tercerunquinto
as the basis for their
installation. It toys with the
juxtaposition between the
recycled materials that were
generated during the garden’s
construction, and the new
architectural structures
Garden rubbish was used by the collective Tercerunquinto as the basis for their installation. It toys with the juxtaposition between the recycled materials that were generated during the garden’s construction, and the new architectural structures
Architect: Tatiana Bilbao S.C.
Design Team: Tatiana Bilbao, David Vaner, Catia Bilbao (master plan), Israel Alvarez, Mariana Tello, Eliza Figueroa, Lina Rúelas, Sebastián Córdova, Carlos Leguizamo, Paola Toriz, Ana Yumbe, Julieta Sobral de Elía, Roberto Rosales (design)
Models: Mauricio Rodriguez, Roberto Rodriguez, Isais Corona, Omar Diaz, Ana Castellá, Essiak Fernandez, Thorsten Englert, Adriana Carvalho
Structural Engineering: IESSA S.A DE C.V, Javier Ribe
Construction Supervision : Paralelo, Estandares Globales en Arquitectura, Arturo Barbosa
Hydraulic Engineering : QM Ingeniería, Jorge S. Quintana
Lighting Design : Luz en Arquitectura, Kai Diederichsen
Landscape Design : TOA, Taller de Operaciones Ambientales
Art Programme and Curation : Patrick Charpenel
Client : Sociedad Botánica de Culiacán
Site area : 109.250 mq
Design phase : 2004—current
Construction phase :
2004—2007 (phase 1)
2007—2011 (phase 2)
2011—2014 (phase 3)
Allora & Calzadilla attached
a false leg to a tree. This
unusual “branch” protrudes
seductively from the trunk.
Long formed an ellipse with
blocks of white quartz,
demonstrating the possibility
of a respectful relationship
between man and nature
Allora & Calzadilla attached a false leg to a tree. This unusual “branch” protrudes seductively from the trunk. Long formed an ellipse with blocks of white quartz, demonstrating the possibility of a respectful relationship between man and nature
Sofía Táboas, <em>Elevated platform with extraterrestrial layout</em>, 2008—2011
Sofía Táboas, Elevated platform with extraterrestrial layout , 2008—2011
Teresa Margolles, <em>Untitled</em>, 2006
Teresa Margolles, Untitled , 2006
Ramírez Erre used coloured
arrows to indicate direction
and distance between
Culiacán and selected foreign
cities. Other arrows carry
quotes and sayings. Eliasson
explored the relation between
geometry and aesthetics, with
a pavilion covered by five
aromatic plants
Ramírez Erre used coloured arrows to indicate direction and distance between Culiacán and selected foreign cities. Other arrows carry quotes and sayings. Eliasson explored the relation between geometry and aesthetics, with a pavilion covered by five aromatic plants
The educational centre
The educational centre
Táboas invites passers-by
to interact with the sunlight
to create amber-coloured
shades. Her work alludes
ironically to the esoteric
experiences that permeate
contemporary society
Táboas invites passers-by to interact with the sunlight to create amber-coloured shades. Her work alludes ironically to the esoteric experiences that permeate contemporary society

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