The Way to Solitude

Applying Magic Realism in Landscape Architecture

Master of Landscape Architecture Thesis

University of Toronto

Instructor: Elise Shelley

Narratives have been used extensively in Landscape Architecture discipline as a means to consolidate concepts and tell a coherent story. Through the interaction between the users and landscape elements, one narrative has the ability to manifest itself to the senses of the users. My proposed thesis is to take this further by suggesting that a landscape designed with the narrative approach of magic realism has the ability to create an intensity of experience, which may not typically exist in the public realm.

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Contextuality + Narrative-based Mythical Interventions

As analyzed in the diagram, magic realism is between realism and fantasy. A narrative landscape must have the “realistic setting” and the “accepted fantastic elements by viewers” in order to achieve the state of magic realism. To be specific, the design should take the current contextuality as the realistic setting for a series of narrative-based, mythical interventions.


Applying magic realism to various material options and flexible spatial organization of a site will create an unique landscape experience. 

I took a site in Bogota, Colombia, to test the idea of applying magic realism in landscape, through the lens of the book One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The book, an exemplary work of magic realism published in 1967, tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family in the metaphoric town of Macondo. Marquez uses magic realism as a representation of Colombian culture and the absurdity of people’s life. 


People in Macondo are unfazed by the supernatural elements in their daily life, so this reaction makes it easy for the readers to accept the dream-like things in Macondo’s reality. Everyone in the family was doing something to resist loneliness, but they never escaped from the inevitable fate of solitude and the repetition of history written in the scroll by Melchiades. The town was “wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men” at last. The book also reveals the underlaying pattern of the true Latin American history.


Márquez uses “magic realism” to depict how human beings deal with their self-created solitude. A garden designed with this narrative and the intent of conveying “magic realism” interprets the ideas from the book.

Site | Realistic Setting (Contextuality)

My site is located in the old town of Bogota, at the opposite of Gabriel Marquez Cultural Center. It is part of a cultural network which contains 29 university entities, 7 libraries and a complex of cultural museums and collectives.

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Colombian red brick is the main material of buildings and pavements in the context. The culture centre is constructed with bricks. To keep architectural consistency, I took the brick as the primary material and applied the arc geometry of the culture centre, to interpret the “realistic setting” of the site. On the other hand, the “realistic setting” in the book is the timeline of the Buendia family, and the reality of Macondo’s solitude end in the wind. So considering all of these above, I developed my site strategy as a circular continuous path made of bricks.

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Fantastic Elements | Brick Interventions

For the fantasy part, I took the regular brick walls as my starting point, and did a series of interventions, using similar methods that Marquez used in his words, such as exaggeration, twisting, and changes of intensities. And I added transparency and view-blocking methods to enrich the potential experiences. 


I extracted significant moments from the book’s storyline and translated the corresponding narratives into landscape terms. By analyzing spatial organizations, plants, water and other landscape materials, I came up with the design interventions based on the manipulations of bricks. 

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Axonometric & Diagrams

To describe the foundation of Macondo with utopian innocence, I created an entry with a seamless flow contains reed houses, tropical plants, a banana garden and gradually rising walls. It provides space for people to stay and to look through the brick walls ahead. Then the path becomes narrower with intense collapsing brick walls and exposed tree roots, provoking a feeling of depression and stress in civil wars and failed revolutions.


When experiencing "civil wars", people have the chance to see the plants behind the twisted transparent brick wall, feeling the blurry boundary between life and death expressed in the book. The crossed stacking of bricks allows people to look through from one side, but the views are blocked from the other side.


As the path goes on, the space becomes wider. People will feel joyful and passionate as the vine canopy gradually gets intense, and the yellow lush flowers grows in an unexpected way along the exaggerated bricks. This interprets the economic prosperity in the book.


The wall system then turns into a water-surrounded corridor. This is to convey the same feeling of experiencing the rain that lasts for 4 years, 11 months and 2 days in the book. Cascades fall into the ground. The transparent brick bridge allows people to see the water underneath them. Water plants grow out the gaps.


This series of intense experiences is followed by an empty space with a still water pool in the centre, for reflection and contemplation. This part is designed to create an opportunity for people to feel the same as they are reading the solitude end of story.

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Continuous Experience

Going back to the original definition of magic realism, its two main elements are realistic setting and fantastic interventions. After working on this specific project, I concluded the general rules for applying magic realism into landscape design. A magic realistic landscape must take its contextuality as the primary setting, this includes material consistency and normalcy, and space continuity. Based on this, manipulations of space, materials and positions can happen as the fantastic interventions. The methods are basically exaggeration, twisting, changes of transparency and intensities. This rule system can be used for broader implications, and can be applied in other similar projects that wish to create a series of fantastic experiences.

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