We speak to Carmen Santiago of landscape design company Jungle Studio on choreographing soulful outdoor spaces with an environmental agenda.
There’s an alluring sense of rhythm to the multifaceted landscapes created by Jungle Studio, the garden design practice founded by Carmen Santiago. Largely inspired by Britain’s jungle music scene and her experience in performing arts, Carmen’s designs are brought to life with layers of flora, forms and textures.
“Jungle Studio is a creative space. We bring together culture, botany, ecology, and a commitment to mindful outdoor living in Ibiza,” she elaborates. The goal is to produce regenerative and resilient landscapes that question traditional design practices and attitudes – and Carmen calls on her fellow garden designers, and the island as a whole, to consider the role we can all play in creating positive environmental change.
Originally hailing from Spain, Carmen first fell for garden landscaping while reading a book about succulents during a trip to the lush, patchworked hills of Las Alpujarras in Andalucía: “The book felt like a portal to a new terrain,” she recalls.
After studying forestry and landscape architecture in Huelva and Edinburgh, Carmen’s passion soon translated into a desire to create her own engaging and transformative landscapes. Thus, Jungle Studio was launched in Ibiza in 2014, with Carmen noting that ever since she was young, she has had a particular fascination with the island’s nature, beaches and welcoming spirit.
There’s a specific moment, she says, when people realise the magic of landscaping and it’s usually when two-dimensional drawings materialise as tangible outdoor spaces. Leaning on her past experience working in performing arts – where set designs and scripts are translated to the physical stage – Carmen’s gardens are similarly alive with characters and props; a troupe of verdant plants playing their part in an al fresco theatre.
Performative in nature and name, Jungle Studio takes its moniker from the jungle music scene – a subgenre of electronic dance music influenced by reggae and hip-hop – that ignited British dance floors in the early 1990s.
“My time in London was defined by all the fun I had exploring jungle music; it’s a rollercoaster of multi-layered sensations. I wanted to imprint my cultural experiences and passion for the music into the studio’s creative direction.”
It seems both apt and poetic that a music genre would inspire a landscape architecture studio found on an island so renowned for its club scene – and its rugged beauty. Rather than manicured, picture-perfect spaces, there’s a spontaneity to Carmen’s gardens. Preferring to work with an existing space than against it, her designs are guided by the characteristics of the plot and the needs of her clients.
Take her Deep Jungle Blue project for instance, where the garden of a clifftop villa tumbles toward the sea – a challenging terrain to transform by any means. Unfazed by its location, Carmen’s deft use of organic textures, geometric forms and playful style resulted in a vibrant outdoor living area that frames the postcard-worthy views of the Mediterranean.
Carmen begins each project by carefully examining the site in granular detail, from the soil and morphological conditions to its socio-cultural context. Then she lets her intuition and creativity take over. Her inspiration? “The mindset and culture of California resonate with me – specifically the mid-century modern aesthetic – and also the works of Japanese architect Junya Ishigami.” Carmen’s work certainly emulates the relationship between clean lines and natural phenomena: sleek architecture softened by organic foliage – native where possible.
Another landscape designer that has had a particular influence on Carmen’s work is the Brazilian visionary Roberto Burle Marx. “He elevated landscape design to a new dimension as an art form,” she says. “His work and philosophies are so contemporary to modern sensibilities.” Her admiration for Roberto’s work translates into a shared love of not only bold palms and tropical plants, but an advocacy for landscape conservation.
I wanted to imprint my cultural experiences and passion for music into the studio’s creative direction.
- Carmen Santiago, Founder
Jungle Studio is guided by the principles of regenerative landscaping – a practice that’s quickly capturing popular imagination in today’s eco-conscious age. Like regenerative farming, it restores the environment by increasing biodiversity and boosting ecological resistance. Landscape designers like Carmen are rebranding the eco aesthetic, proving that gardens that work toward reducing water consumption, cutting costs and letting wildlife thrive can be beautiful too.
“When creating landscapes, we look to the future – anywhere between 20 and 50 years – so now is the perfect time to be innovative with our sustainable vision and design.”
Carmen is keen to incorporate practices that proactively counter human impact on the environment. To rebuild delicate ecosystems and protect water and soil, she takes measures to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and uses mostly robust, sustainably sourced materials throughout her gardens. Plants are chosen depending on the growing conditions of the landscape and layers are added to help create a thriving habitat for fauna.
Championing regenerative landscaping in her Mediterranean gardens is not an easy task, but as Carmen reflects, there’s never been a better time to “focus on balance and achieve an equilibrium between humans and the natural world”.