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Independent Research: Interaction of Flows and Spaces of Vizcaya

Vizcaya: “prosperity is a condition of great achievements; it is not their cause.” –geoffrey scott. James Deering was a Manufacturer and Philanthropist.

New wealth from industrialization in the late 19th century took on Old World aristocratic culture such as country homes, summer estates, horseback riding, fox hunting, yachting, and art collecting to name a few. The “Gilded Age” was particularly fascinated with the Italian Renaissance but in excess and at a larger scale. It drew largely from Baroque philosophy.  Deering acquired a large sum of land to build and also in hopes that the land will always be preserved against a changing world.

As you walk in:  The gate displays in its crest the Spanish ship Caravel Vizcaya. Spaniards used to harbor in Miami before Spanish American War and named the bay Biscayne Bay after the Province they left, Biscay.  Deering even put the crest on his private flag. The gates are Italian and many other aspects in the house and gardens are inspired by Pisani palaces. Just inside the gate there is a statue typical of Pisani, Venetian Admiral, palaces that is a depiction of “South” the Noonday, an imagination of Indians in Miami.  There are many statues around the gardens but this one, one of a happy black youth clad in plumes and crowned by the sun, is the first in a long list you encounter on the grounds.

Mercury and Neptune are the next statues flowed by the formal Plaza and fountain, of which its architecture is similar to Longhena’s Santa Maria della Salute in Venice. The Shell, the Spanish Caravel, and the Sea Horse motifs appear all over Vizcaya.  Another water work and rare bo-trees are next in your path before you see the house. The house is made of Limestone and locally excavated rock with fossilized formations.

The Entrance Loggia, as stated in “The Handbook of the House, Formal Gardens and Fountains of Vizcaya,” suggests movement through tall doors and the arrangement of yellow Roman baths, a statue of Bacchus, and Egyptian vases. The flow through the house continues with the Entrance Hall, Adam Room, Marie Antoinette Salon and so on around counter clockwise to the Tea Room and then outside to the gardens or upstairs to the second floor. The Second floor is where Mr. Deering’s quarters, a breakfast room, kitchen, and multiple guest rooms surround the inner court. Finally, servants, more guests, and a form of widow’s walk by the sea are on the third floor. There is a clear view from the front loggia through the inner court and to the ocean. All three levels have an  open concept to allow the wind to come in from the sea and circulate the air around the house.

In regards to the gardens, James T. Maher, author of The Twilight of Splendor, says “Suarez (Landscape architect) had looked with an artist’s eye past the noonday glare of Vizcaya down the long allees of history to the time of Xenophon and the beginnings of garden art in the west.”  The house is an epicenter of 15th-19th century antiques and art works in America because of Deering and the architect, Chalfin. Diego Suarez designed the gardens as dependent on views and not color for their appeal.  Using Palladian principles, the garden is set on an axis similar to the flow of the house. Fountains and splashing baths, in typical Italian villa style, make the gardens enchanting. A sweeping view over the reflecting pool leads right to the Sicilian casino. Statues of gods and goddesses and many of the fountains in the gardens were part of Italian villages and imported to Vizcaya. The parterres can be easily compared with Villandry in France or Villa Garzoni in Italy in that the overall landscape is picturesque and also the movement through the gardens is methodical and a consecutive procession. Trees are lined to guide your eye, your step, and the wind in a particular direction. At certain times of the day depending on the sun’s position, select areas in the landscape are meant to be revealed in a climactic moment or intimately hidden. the layers of gardens run parallel to the ocean and each one is a defense for the next layer from storms.

Italian Renaissance style gardens such as maze gardens, a theatre garden, a rose garden, and a giardino segreto, or secret garden, are extensions or on the periphery of the axial garden.  The parterres reflect the subtropical climate of Florida being sculpted out of wild jasmine instead of traditional English boxwood. This is in agreement with Italian villas, as intended, in that Italy is also a subtropical climate. All the allees and pockets of gardens create a romantic atmosphere, making Vizcaya a sought after wedding destination as well as an amazing assortment of art.

The winds blow from the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean to the east with an average of 4 major storms hitting the coast every summer, mostly in September.  THe Sea Wall and Stone Barge create calm water between the sea and the house/dock for boats of Deering and visitors. Each end of the barge connects the Tea Room on one side and the Yacht landing on the other with bridges. The house stands behind it like a fortress.

According to records, Chalfin was very concerned with making the house withstand tropical storms.  The close relationship with the outdoors makes the house more Mediterranean and the open air circulation was unorthodox for America. The Loggias are the transitional indoor/outdoor space. There are no interior corridors but rooms are reached through an outdoor gallery. Venetian blinds and Bermuda shutters are on the outside of windows for sun and hurricane protection and when opened were concealed in pockets. The house is also raised above average tide to add additional protection from storms. Interestingly, The swimming pool, bath, and some fountains could be filled with could be filled with fresh water or sea water and the pool in particular had a stock maintaining balancing feedback loop system between itself and the sea.

Over time, Vizcaya has had to be resilient and often times had to restore.  On a regular basis, today and when Deering lived there, the grounds are constantly trimmed to perfection and the house is cleaned of the residues of humidity and sun damage. The system within the grounds is resilient because all the materials and plants are essentially local except for the imported sculptures.  The system works best when it is at a dynamic equilibrium however. Today Vizcaya is a museum therefore a key part of the system is the tourists as well as the staff. To keep Vizcaya functioning you need a steady flow of interested visitors and because you get visitors then the need for the house and grounds to be taken care of rises. As a result a precious historic landmark continues to be preserved and more people come to visit each year.


– Rybczynski, “Vizcaya:An American Villa and Its Makers (Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture).”


-Littlefield, “Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Miami, Florida.”


-Wharton, “The Decoration of Houses.”{read by Chalfin for his training}


-Stewart, “Historic Homes of Florida.”


About katestabler

I am an Architecture student at the University of Virginia.

2 responses »

  1. In what ways do the first diagram and second diagram differ from each other, why is it neccessary to have both in order to further understand this topic?

    • The first is about the intended circulation around the grounds. There is also a golf cart that takes handicap people this route as well. The second diagram is about the resident’s and guests’ travel through the house.


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