Diego Suarez, Landscape Architect for Vizcaya’s gardens

Vintage black and white photo of a man in a light suit and hat standing in front of a large building and gate

Elegant roots 

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.

Estate map
Estate map published in Architectural Review in 1917

 

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.