Diego Suarez (1888–1974), was born in Bogotà to a Colombian father and an Italian mother. Following the death of his father, Suarez moved to Florence, Italy, with his family. There he studied architecture at the Accademia di Belle Arti (the Italian equivalent of the French École des Beaux Arts). While still a student, he became interested in landscape architecture
An auspicious beginning
His first experience was to help Sir Arthur Acton (1873–1953) to restore the gardens of La Pietra, the family villa on the hills of Florence, to its original eighteenth-century design. Through Acton, Suarez obtained commissions to design gardens for other English and American expatriates in Florence.
An important introduction
In June 1914, Acton asked Suarez to show two American guests—James Deering and Paul Chalfin—the best formal gardens of the region. A few months later, Suarez traveled to New York and found himself stranded there by the outbreak of the First World War. By chance, he again encountered Chalfin, who employed him to design Vizcaya’s formal gardens.
A change in plans
Initially, Suarez based his designs on those of a sixteenth-century villa in Viterbo. But when he visited Miami for the first time, he realized that the Italian design would not work at the Florida site. Suarez cleverly adapted his design and created the Mound as the focal point of the gardens, lending drama to the vista from the small structure known as the Casino. Suarez created exaggerated perspective lines using low hedges, fanning out from the South Terrace, to dramatize the formal geometry of the gardens.
Trouble in paradise
Following a series of disagreements with Chalfin, Suarez left the project in 1917, and, for many years, Chalfin took credit for the garden design. Only in the 1950s, thanks to “gentleman architect” Francis Burrall Hoffman, Suarez was acknowledged as the creator of one of the most significant formal gardens of the United States.
Enjoy this gallery of historic and modern photos of Vizcaya’s gardens.