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Heroes of Modern Landscape Design: Roberto Burle Marx

Robert Burle Marx holds a special place in the development of modernism in the field of landscape architecture. Often times in books - and in my professor's history courses - he was set apart from others of the same period. In Elizabeth Rogers' book, Landscape Design, she gives him his own sub-chapter: Roberto Burle Marx and the Garden as Abstract Art.

Wikipedia says:

    "Roberto Burle Marx in Brazil combined the International Style and native Brazilian plants and culture for a new aesthetic. "

That sums it up nicely - a new aesthetic. He was - and still is - so unique, that he stands out as a iconic master in the profession. His works are iconic also, especially the famed Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.


His paving patterns are often refered to as modernist painting.  So it should come as no surprise that Burle Marx was also a painter. And a botanist and plant collector. And a musician/singer. And an early ecologist.

The fact that stands out about him - that speaks volumes to me - is that he is the sole landscape architect whose work has every beean featured in an exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1991.

Here is one of his renderings for a landscape design. It's easy to see that he was an artist, whose medium was the landscape.

Burle Marx is also very well-known for his collaborations with one of Brasil's best architects,  Oscar Niemeyer, himself a hero of mid-century modern architecture.

In an article about another show of his work - this time at the Paco Imperial museum in NYC, last year - Larry Rohter writes:

At the peak of his career, Burle Marx was highly esteemed among his peers in the United States. In 1965 the American Institute of Architects awarded him its fine-arts prize, saying that he was “the real creator of the modern garden.” 

His own home, which is now a museum, is his personal masterpiece. It isn't quite the modernist masterpiece one might expect. I think it clearly shows the full spectrum of his personality. It shows his love of architectural form, but is overwhelmingly a plant lover's garden. His collection of plants he found in the vast Brazilian jungles is one of the hallmarks of his legacy. He discovered, and named, many plants that were theretofore unknown. He was a passionate spokesperson for the environment, and made conservation a key part of his mission.

You can see more pictures of his home at this wonderful website.

There's really nothing more that I can say. Except, "WOW!" Okay, there's one more thing I can say: I LOVE Roberto Burle Marx. He's my hero.

If you would like to take a phototour of his gardens, we are very lucky to have Mr. Malcolm Raggett's excellent photojournal of most Roberto Burle Marx's gardens. Enjoy!

Next Blog Entry: A Case Study: A landscape for an Eichler home, right here in Marin County.

Robert Leeper is a guest blogger on landscape design for Marin & San Francisco Modern.   He is the founder of Robert Leeper Designs, a landscape design firm established in Austin Texas which recently expanded to Marin County, California.    Contact Robert at 415-322-9254 or visit him online at Robert Leeper Designs.


#1 By Timothy Parsons at 7/18/2019 3:57 AM

Thank you for this website of one of my landscape design heros. I am also an artist/landscape designer...Marx's work really inspires/speaks to me.
Thank you
Timothy Parsons
Simply Landscape.

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