Roberto Burle Marx (August 4, 1909 – June 4, 1994) was a Brazilian landscape architect (as well as a painter, print maker, ecologist, naturalist, artist and musician) whose designs of parks and gardens made him world-famous. He is accredited with having introduced modernist landscape architecture to Brazil. He was known as a modern nature artist and a public urban space designer. His work had a great influence on tropical garden design in the 20th century. Water gardens were a popular theme in his work. He was deftly able to transfer traditional artistic expressions such as graphic design, tapestry and folk art into his landscape designs. He also designed fabrics, jewellery and stage sets.
He was one of the first people to call for the conservation of Brazil’s rainforests. More than 50 plants bear his name. He amassed a substantial collection of plants at his home, including more than 500 philodendrons.
Roberto Burle Marx was born in São Paulo. He was the fourth son of Rebecca Cecília Burle, a member of the traditional Pernambuco family of French ancestry, Burle Dubeux, and Wilhelm Marx, a German Jew born in Stuttgart and raised in Trier. The family moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1913.
Burle Marx’s first landscaping inspirations came while studying painting in Germany, where he often visited the Botanical Garden in Berlin and first learned about Brazil’s native flora. Upon returning to Brazil in 1930, he began collecting plants in and around his home. He went to school at the National School of Fine Arts in Rio in 1930 where he focused on visual arts under Leo Putz and Candido Portinari. While in school he associated with several of Brazil’s future leaders in architecture and botanists who continued to be of significant influence in his personal and professional life. One of these was his professor, Brazilian Modernism’s Lucio Costa, the architect and planner who lived down the street from Burle.
Itamaraty Palace, headquarters of the Ministry of External Relations in Brasília
In 1932, Burle Marx designed his first landscape for a private residence by the architects Lucio Costa and Gregori Warchavchik. This project, the Schwartz house was the beginning of a collaboration with Costa which was enriched later by Oscar Niemeyer who designed the Brazilian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Niemeyer also designed the Pampulha complex in 1942 for which Marx designed gardens. His first garden design was completed in 1933. In 1937, Burle Marx gained international recognition and admiration for this abstract design of a roof garden for the Ministry of Education building. The design highlighted elements of tension and drama.
In 1949 he acquired the Sítio de Santo Antonio da Bica, a 365,000m² estate in the Barra de Guaratiba neighborhood on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Burle Marx began taking expeditions into the Brazilian rain forest with botanists, landscape architects, architects and other researchers to gather plant specimens. He learned to practice studying plants in situ from the botanist Henrique Lahmeyer de Mello Barreto and established his garden, nursery and tropical plant collection at Guaratiba. This property was donated to the Brazilian government in 1985 and became a national monument. Now called Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, under the direction of IPHAN-Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional / Ministério da Cultura, it houses over 3,500 species of plants. The house was rebuilt in a valley on the site of a garden house belonging to the original plantation estate.
Roberto Burle Marx founded a landscape studio in 1955 and in the same year he founded a landscape company, called Burle Marx & Cia. Ltda. He opened an office in Caracas, Venezuela in 1956 and started working with architects Jose Tabacow and Haruyoshi Ono in 1968. Marx worked on commissions thorough out Brazil, Argentina, in Chile and many other South American countries, France, South Africa, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. Additionally his artwork can be found displayed throughout the city of Rio de Janeiro “it is an open-air museum of works displaying his unmistakable style, one wholly his own” (Montero 2001 p. 29). Roberto Burle Marx’s 62-year career ended when he died June 4, 1994 two months before his 85th birthday.
He spent time in the Brazilian forests where he was able to study and explore. Burle Marx was one of the first Brazilians to speak out against deforestation. This enabled him to add significantly to the botanical sciences, by discovering new rocks and plants for example. At least 50 plants bear his name. Marx was also involved in efforts to protect and conserve the rain forest from the destructive commercial activities of deforestation for bananas and other crops and clear cutting of timber.
Farmhouse and chapel gardens in Barra de Guaratiba where Burle Marx died in 1994
Burle Marx’s artistic style was avant-garde and modern. Much of his work has a sense of timelessness and perfection. He explored an anti-mimitec and skeptical aesthetic developed from modernism with a distinctly Brazilian style. His designs were also influenced by cubism and abstractionism. Another strong influence was Brazilian folk art.
His aesthetics were often nature based, for example, never mixing flower colours, utilisation of big groups of the same specimen, using native plants and making a rocky field into a relaxing garden. He was very interested in each plant’s character and what effect that has on the whole garden. He sought a depth in his designs by understanding how animals interacted with plants and how they bloomed, amongst other plant characteristics. Burle Marx had a great skill in utilising the sculptural form of plants. Burle Marx was mindful of the dynamic of walking through a garden. The sensation of mobility is an important element of experiencing his landscapes. He also made clever use of enormous scale, lighting and reflection particularly in his use of water. Burle Marx was able to extend the architecture of a building into the garden. He preferred to work on public spaces because, in his words, they are able to provide dignity for the masses.
Marx’s work “can be summarized in four general design concepts—the use of native tropical vegetation as a structural element of design, the rupture of symmetrical patterns in the conception of open spaces, the colorful treatment of pavements, and the use of free forms in water features” (Vaccarino 2000, p. 17). This approach is exemplified by the Copacabana Beach promenade, where native sea breeze resistant trees and palms appear in groupings along Avenida Atlantica. These groupings punctuate Portuguese stone mosaics which form a giant abstract painting where no section along the promenade is the same. This “painting” is viewed from the balconies of hotels, and offers an ever-changing view for those driving along the beach. The mosaics continue the entire two and a half-mile distance of the beach. The water feature, in this case, is of course the ocean and beach, which is bordered by a 30-foot wide continuous scallop patterned mosaic walk (Eliovson 1991; Montero 2001). Copacabana Beach is “the most famous in Brazil” (Eliovson 1991 p. 103).
The standard author abbreviation Burle-Marx is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.
Roberto Burle Marx has received the following prizes, diplomas of merit and honorary memberships: The landscape architecture prize at the 2nd International Exhibition of Architecture (1953), title of Knight of the Order of the Crown from Belgium (1959), Diploma d’Honneur in Paris (1959), the Santos Dumont Medal of the Brazilian Government (1963), the Fine Arts Medal of The American Institute of Architects in Washington (1965), doctor of the Royal College of Art, London (1982) and an honorary doctorate from the Queen of the Netherlands. The Missouri Botanical Garden awarded him the Greensfelder Award and the Kentucky Botanic Garden proclaimed October 14, 1985 in his honor (Eliovson 1991).
Parque del Este, Caracas
Copacabana beach promenade
Landscape design of some gardens in the public buildings of Brasília
Ministry of Army – water garden and excellent use of concrete forms.
Foreign Affairs Building
Ministry of Education
Itamaraty Palace – headquarters of the Ministry of External Relations
Copacabana promenade – Pavement landscape, large scale (4 km long) mosaic completed in 1970 on famous Rio de Janeiro beach. (Influenced by Portuguese pavement)
Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo, 1954
Flamengo Park – large public park in Rio de Janeiro built on landfill
La Rinconada Hippodrome, Caracas, Venezuela
Parque del Este, Caracas, Venezuela
La Lagunita Country Club, Caracas, Venezuela
Pampulha, Belo Horizonte
Cascade Garden, Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania
Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, Florida (Completed posthumously)
Maracaibo Botanical Gardens, Maracaibo, Venezuela
Peru Square, Buenos Aires, Argentina (Demolished)
Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) Park, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Casa Forte Square (Praça de Casa Forte), Recife, Pernambuco-Brazil
Cascata Farm, Araras-Brazil
1948-52 – Painting toward architecture, Miller Company Collection of Abstract Art, several venues, USA.
1949 – From Le Corbusier to Oscar Niemeyer: Savoye House – Tremaine House 1949, Museum of Modern Art, New York
1991 – Roberto Burle Marx: The unnatural art of the garden, Museum of Modern Art, New York
2016 – Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist, Jewish Museum, New York. 
2019 – Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx, New York Botanical Garden.
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Eliovson, Sima (1991). The gardens of Roberto Burle Marx. Harry N. Abrams. p. 21. ISBN 0810933578. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
Stepan, Nancy Leys (2006). Picturing Tropical Nature. Reaktion Books. pp. 220–221. ISBN 1861891466. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
2 paintings by or after Roberto Burle Marx, Art UK. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
Rohter, Larry. (January 20, 2009.) A New Look at the Multitalented Man Who Made Tropical Landscaping An Art. New York Times. Retrieved March 19, 2019.
Diarmuid Gavin (April 16, 2011). “Ten of the greatest landscape designers”. Mail Online. Associated Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
Birksted, Jan (2004). Relating Architecture to Landscape. Taylor & Francis. p. 92. ISBN 0203352602. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
(c. 2019). Roberto Burle Marx. Design for a garden, (1948). artdesigncafe. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
From Le Corbusier to Niemeyer: Savoye House – Tremaine House 1949 exhibition webpage. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
Roberto Burle Marx: The unnatural art of the garden exhibition webpage. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
Adams, William Howard (1991). Roberto Burle Marx: The Unnatural Art of the Garden (PDF). New York: Museum of Modern Art. ISBN 978-0-87070-197-9.
Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist exhibition webpage. Jewish Museum, New York. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
Hoffmann, Jens; Nahson, Claudia J. (2016). Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist. New York: The Jewish Museum. ISBN 978-0-300-21215-0.
Farago, Jason (June 20, 2019). “Roberto Burle Marx and His Leafy Vision of the Tropics”. The New York Times.
Sullivan, Edward J.; Groarke, Joanna L., eds. (2019). Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx. New York: New York Botanical Garden. ISBN 978-0-89327-956-1.
William Howard Adams (1991). Roberto Burle Marx: The Unnatural Art of the Garden. Museum of Modern Art, New York. ISBN 0-8109-6096-6.
Anita Berrizbeitia (2005). Roberto Burle Marx in Caracas: Parque del Este, 1956–1961. Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture, University of Pennsylvania Press.
S. Eliovson; R. Burle Marx (1991). The Gardens of Roberto Burle Marx. Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-160-2.
M. Schwartz; M. I. Montero; R. Burle Marx (2001). Roberto Burle Marx. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23290-9.
Roberto Burle Marx (1982). A Garden is Like a Poem. World Microfilms. ISBN 1-85035-075-2.
Giulio G. Rizzo (1992). Roberto Burle Marx. Il giardino del Novecento (in Italian). Florence: Cantini editore.
Giulio G. Rizzo (2009). Il giardino privato di Roberto Burle Marx: Il Sìtio. Sessant’anni dalla fondazione. Cent’anni dalla nascita di Roberto Burle Marx (in Italian). Roma: Gangemi Editore. ISBN 978-88-492-1987-6.
Vaccarino, R (2000), Roberto Burle Marx: Landscapes Reflected, Princeton Architectural Press with the Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Roberto Burle Marx, Lauro Cavalcanti (Editor) (2011). Roberto Burle Marx: The Modernity of Landscape. Actar, Barcelona. ISBN 978-84-92861-67-5. First English Language Edition.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Roberto Burle Marx.
Roberto Burle Marx, Encyclopædia Britannica, archived from the original on March 22, 2006.
Burle Marx & Cia. Ltda, BR, archived from the original on January 13, 2006.
Sítio Burle Marx (in Portuguese), BR: IPHAN, archived from the original on June 22, 2007.[dead link]
Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, BR: Maria Brazil. Tourist guide page with many pictures.
Roberto Burle Marx, Land Living, archived from the original on May 11, 2006.