An oasis of orchids, animals and architecture in Medellín, Colombia

A striking shelter hosting an orchid collection – and the odd wandering iguana – is the centrepiece of a tropical paradise rescued from developers in the 1970s

Amid the hustle and bustle of Medellín, Colombia, are the Joaquin Antonio Uribe botanical gardens. The 35-acre site is free to enter and home to thousands of plants, a butterfly farm and a peaceful lily pond. The dense shrubbery acts as a barrier to the thrum of the city, and turtles, sloths and iguanas also call these gardens home.

The Orchideorama was designed by the winner of an architectural competition in 2008.
The Orchideorama was designed by the winner of an architectural competition in 2008. Photograph: Alamy

The gardens, just north of downtown near the University of Antioquia, were opened in 1972, when the plot of land they occupy was rescued from development. They are named after a revered local geographer and botanist who died in 1935 and have developed into a popular, contemporary attraction, symbolic of Medellín’s own regeneration.

In 2008, the city held a competition for local architects to redevelop the park. The winner, Plan B Architects, designed the centrepiece: the Orchideorama, a 20-metre-tall wooden mesh of modular structures that shelters an orchid collection. It consists of 10 supports (stems), each of which holds six hexagonal structures (petals). The petals slot together, forming a shelter. Underneath each stem the plants are sustained by rainwater collected by the petals, which drains down through the stem. The structure also hosts the butterfly farm and events from yoga classes to cinema screenings.

One of the gardens’ resident iguanas.
One of the gardens’ resident iguanas. Photograph: Getty Images

The Orchideorama is a clever – and aesthetically pleasing – reminder of the structural similarities between nature and architecture. With lots to explore, and plenty of quiet green spaces, the gardens are a great place to catch your breath and chill out away from the sprawling mass of downtown Medellín.
Tom Fleming is the editor of Insight Guides Colombia

Tom Fleming

The GuardianTramp

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