Landscape: Nature is the Answer

Landscape: Nature is the Answer

For Carmen Santiago, the driving force behind Jungle Studio, the path towards becoming a landscape architect was convoluted, but in many ways, inevitable.

Born in southern Spain, she always felt deeply connected to the earth, so much so that her first taster of the working world was in forestry. Spurred on by this, she studied landscape architecture between Barcelona and Edinburgh but not before a pitstop in London to focus on theatre and performing arts. “I came from different backgrounds but it all gave me a sense of direction,” she explains. “To me, landscaping is like a stage — it’s a living scenario with lots of different characters.”

It’s an interesting way of looking at outdoor spaces, with plants, clients and materials each playing a pivotal role in a makeshift alfresco theatre. “The only thing that’s different is that you have different tools to manage,” Carmen adds. “Otherwise what we’re doing is the same — we’re creating images; pictures that are evolving in time. Outdoor areas an extraordinary canvas on which to create.” 


That she ended up choreographing these layered mis-en-scènes in Ibiza also feels somewhat predestined. She first visited the island in 2009 and was struck by its natural beauty but it wasn’t until 2012 that she came back to lay roots, this time irrevocably drawn to stay for good. “There was an attraction, it was very intuitive,” she muses. “The island had a very strong energy for me, like a magnet.” 

Since then, she’s been tending to projects across the island, showcasing an assorted array of styles that span rustic and minimal to modern and contemporary, each connected by one emphatic element: her own intuitive vision. “I don’t have a specific approach as such,” she smiles. “The approach is the place. Once I go there I get all the answers I need. I don’t follow patterns because each project is different and has its own identity. The design comes from the space; my job is to convey that.” 

Of course, there are other factors at play, and clients’ needs sit atop of that list. “In the end, it is the clients who are going to live and experience the garden,” Carmen says. “So the most important thing to me is ensuring that they’re really happy. They must feel the place is for them.” She achieves this by eschewing ego in favour of honesty and showcasing spontaneity instead of opulence. It’s a fine line but in this way she’s able to leave an indelible but subtle imprint. “There is always a part of me left on site,” she adds. “But the space always has its own spirit, not mine.” 

Sustainability too, has always lain at the heart of her work, a principle that’s gained even more prominence in recent years. “Smart design should leave no trace,” she says unequivocally. “In the past we used to use more organic materials and natural pigments for colours and textures, so when I’m working I’m always trying to explore these ideas. She also limits the use of concrete, for instance, and seeks to use local plants while minimising irrigation, a tough task on an island as arid as Ibiza.

But in working with the land rather than against it, she’s found there’s a kind of freedom, and always an opportunity to do things better. “Plants are living beings so if they’re happy they give you a lot of gratitude,” she laughs. “You have to follow maintenance and guide a garden,” she adds. “But often the design of it takes beauty to a level that even I couldn’t imagine.” In an ideal world, she’d like to apply this sense of wonder to Ibiza as a whole, reinvigorating communal areas and setting out a blueprint for a design approach for the entire island. “It is key for societies to have smart public spaces that allow fundamental life values to flourish,” she says. “In that way we can push the boundaries of what it is to experience life in its full spectrum.” 

From a personal perspective, it seems Carmen already gets a great deal of that from her profession, sowing seeds of positivity as she goes. “I like working with time and living beings,” she says. “These are the most exciting tools I manage.” And when it comes to igniting change, we needn’t look far for inspiration. “Nature is the guide,” she smiles. “It’s the answer.”