Roberto Burle Marx's Legacy Reveals The Role of Landscape Architects

There wasn’t much in the way of art that Roberto Burle Marx couldn’t do. He was a painter, print-maker, sculptor, stage designer, jeweler, musician, tapestry-maker and one of the leading landscape architects in the 20th century. Marx’s passion for art, in all forms, strengthened his ability to design landscapes.

Born in São Paulo, Marx’s interest in botany was inspired by his Pernambucan mother while he was growing up in Rio de Janeiro. Later, Marx went on to spend time painting in Germany. It was there that Marx became further fascinated by botanical gardens and how they work. Marx would go on to reveal to Brazil a new vision. A vision of what landscaping can be - botanically, socially, and aesthetically.

The common thread between all of the arts that Marx practiced was the artistic process. By learning different artistic forms, Marx was able to learn from the creative process in different ways. He explored new techniques and Brazilian cultural identity. Marx was praised for his technique, mastery, and experimentation.

Vargem Grande Farm. Image © Burle Marx Office Collection

But Marx focused on landscape architecture on an even deeper level. He spent a lot of time with the integrated process known as the Architecture-Landscape-Painting triad. Where drawings and paintings turn into urban design.

Unlike other landscape architects at the time, Marx wasn’t afraid to study strange and unknown Brazilian regions and species. “According to him, everything seems to conspire to keep the man away from the woods” [1]. Marx used the floral species prominently in his work.

Even though Marx experimented in many artistic forms, the main focus of his work was landscape architecture. Often, the elements present in his 2D artwork, including paintings and drawings, are scenic landscapes. However, Marx introduces them to the urban scale with uncommon materiality. [2]

In relation to my life as a plastic artist, the most rigorous disciplinary training for drawing and painting, was the garden...I was interested in applying, to nature itself, the plastic composition foundations, according to the aesthetic feeling of my time. It was, in short, the way I found to organize and compose my drawing and painting using less conventional materials (Marx, 1954).

Here is where art and landscape intersect. Marx’s Cubist-influenced drawings freed scale boundaries. Urban design assumed a compositional role, generating sensorial space at the human scale. The natural topography appropriated as one whole area, with fluidly through vegetal and material scales. “There is no aesthetic difference between the object-painting and constructed object-landscape,” which allows "the topographic nature to change, and human existence to adjust individually and collectively, pragmatically and pleasurably" [3].

As a landscape architect, Marx also played an important role as an environmentalist, by cataloging new species of Brazilian flora and introducing them into his projects. He used them as research. However, it is important to note that in his personal garden Marx concentrated on every new plant and contributed to their studies and recognition around the world.

Marambaia Farm. Image © Burle Marx Office Collection

Every day thousands of people pass through the artist’s works, either conscious of the spatiality or not. But, either way, sensorially perceiving the elements that make up the landscape as a whole. Most of Marx’s work is in the Brazilian states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Minas Gerais. His work also exist in Goiás, Acre, and Pernambuco. While his works vary in scale, they are always marked by sculptural character and the transition of human experience through space. There is approximation between pedestrian and landscape. Among some of his projects are: The Marambaia Farm, 1948 (Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro); The Tacaruna Farm, 1954 (Pedro do Rio, Rio de Janeiro); The Aterro do Flamengo, 1961 (Rio de Janeiro); The Paço Municipal de Santo André, 1965 (Santo André, São Paulo); The sidewalk of Atlântica Avenue, 1971 (Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro); The Vargem Grande Farm, 1979 (Areias, São Paulo); The Biscayne Boulevard, 1991 (Miami).

Marx was the faithful friend and landscaper of many of the works of Oscar Niemeyer, Rino Levi, and Paulo Mendes da Rocha.

The landscape architect idealized each element that composed his gardens just as a poet chooses each word in a poem. Therefore, the beauty found in his work is potentially punctuated by the proportion of elements that composes them. Anamorphic lines and their variants, together with the use of differing materials and plant species, translates into a fluidity and subtlety of design integration between building and vegetable scale. 

Vargem Grande Farm. Image © Burle Marx Office Collection

In the breadth of Marx’s work, we see the individual projects concern for different scales (territorial, vegetal and human). Despite his notable artistic aesthetic, botanical use or even fluency innovation, Marx stated that he never sought out originality: 

This concept, that is, my present thinking, based on a reasonable experience, does not seek any originality, no discovery, above all, because all my work responds for a reason of historical course and a consideration of the natural environment.

[...] As time went by, and my experience with nature and the work destined for it increased, I gradually formed a better awareness of the work I was developing [4].

Through Marx, the world realized how important the role of landscape architects are via their dissemination of previously unknown plant species, cataloging them, and linking the landscape to art. 

(MOTTA, 1984, p.34).
[2] (CAVALCANTI, 2009, p.76):
[3] (MARX, 1954 In: CAVALCANTI, 2009, p.76-77).
[4] (MARX, 1954 In: CAVALCANTI, 2009, p.76-77).

CAVALCANTI, Lauro; EL-DAHDAH, Farès. Roberto Burle Marx 100 anos. São Paulo: Rocco, 2009.
MOTTA, Flávio L. Roberto Burle Marx e a nova visão da paisagem. São Paulo: Nobel, 1984.

About this author
Cite: Pereira, Matheus. "Roberto Burle Marx's Legacy Reveals The Role of Landscape Architects" [Burle Marx e o passeio entre as escalas] 30 Sep 2017. ArchDaily. (Trans. Carvalho, Guilherme) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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