Mineral roof garden, Banco Safra headquaters, São Paulo. Photograph by Leonardo Finotti.
“Unlike any other art form, a garden is designed for the future, and for future generations.” – Roberto Burle Marx.
Roberto Burle Marx was one of the most influential landscape architectures of the 21st century although he surprisingly never gained significant notoriety outside of his home country, Brazil. He even often collaborated on large projects with Oscar Niemeyer.
Burle Marx, at home, in the 1980s. He designed the tile walls and chandelier.
We can celebrate his life through his numerous creative feats: he was a painter, a printmaker, a ceramicist; he designed jewelry, fabrics, and stage sets; he was a practiced and talented musician, a self-taught botanist, and an active ecologist. He also avidly collected art and was a skilled cook. Utilizing each of these varied endeavors to enhance the practice of the others, he established this idea of crossing genres to integrate art with global concerns such as ecology and preservation of the natural world.
Roberto Burle Marx made this tapestry in 1969 for the Santo André Civic Center. Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times.
He was a true 21st-century Modernist. He created unique and inviting natural spaces that held the same relevance in the 1950s as they do today. He elevated Landscape Architecture to new levels while illuminating a primeval energy that resonated with jazz and folk art.
A detail of Roberto Burle Marx's design for the garden of the Ministry of the Army in Brasília from the early 1970s. Burle Marx Landscape Design Studio, Rio de Janiero. Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times.
Somewhat of an anomaly in his field, Burle Marx was known for his design process as much as for his results of that process. He worked through the challenges of his projects on canvases, with the belief that plants and ink both express art forms. Burle Marx’s art inhabits a rare space between the rational and the lyrical. Nature’s variability was for him a liberating force: in a sixty-year career, he designed over two thousand gardens worldwide … and made paintings and objects of exuberant, rare beauty. [He] called himself “the poet of his own life,” [and] left the world a poetic legacy. (source: Jewish Museum, NYC).
Avenida Atlântica, one of Marx's most celebrated projects designed in 1970 for the Copacabana shoreline in Rio de Janiero. Burle Marx Landscape Design Studio, Rio de Janiero.
1954 Edmundo Cavanellas Residence. Architect - Oscar Neimeyer. Landscape Architect - Roberto Burle Marx.
Burle Marx came along during a time where French gardening styles were typical in Brazil. He pushed his come country to break ties with the European traditions of imported pines and rose gardens to instead cherish and celebrate the diversity of its own backyard. His passion for botany and his frequent research trips to the Amazonian rainforest led to his own discoveries of about 50 plant species, which he housed on his estate along with thousands of others. The artist donated the estate, on an old plantation outside of Rio, to the government of Brazil. The site, Sítio Burle Marx, displays various studies and elements incorporated from past projects: fountains, reflecting pools, thick patches of jungle providing a home to wildlife, and various multicolored collages of tall grasses.
Sítio Burle Marx, Rio de Janiero.
Sítio is his most personal monument. He viewed the role of a landscape architect as a means of resolving the loss of “Eden” and repairing the disconnect between humanity and nature. This Eden represents what paradise should be: infinity enclosed in a cohesive space. Burle Marx states in his book, The Modernity of Landscape, that “we shall never again find the peace of Eden, but we can try to get closer to it by creating restful and uplifting environments. It is not easy work. There will always be people ready to undermine or divert our purpose. If, however, as each day goes by, at least one person pauses, for a moment, to look out and feel rewarded, our effort will not have been in vain.”