Roberto Burle Marx

September 18, 2010

Roberto Burle Marx, whose mark on Brazil’s landscape ranged from the undulating mosaic sidewalks of Copacabana Beach to the hanging gardens in the new capital of Brasilia, is sadly no longer with us.  He lived to 84 and lived in his lush, botanical retreat, a former coffee farm.  During a 60-year career, Brazil’s most prominent landscape artist brought his nation’s rich flora out from Europe’s shadow and became a tireless champion of Brazil’s orchids, palms, water lilies and bromeliads.  In Brazil, he was best known for Rio’s postcard Flamengo Park — 300 acres of lawns, playing fields, artificial beach and automobile parkway that connect the city’s financial center with beachfront residential neighborhoods.

Born in Sao Paulo in 1909 to a Brazilian mother and a German father, Mr. Burle Marx only discovered the power and variety of Brazilian plants when he traveled to Berlin in 1928 to study at the Dahlem Botanical Gardens. Moving to Rio on his return to Brazil, he was experimenting in his backyard with local flora when he caught the eye of a neighbor, Lucio Costa.  Decades later, the two worked together on the daring design for Brasilia, the new capital in the central high plains. Mr. Costa designed Le Corbusier-style buildings and Mr. Burle Marx designed landscapes, which ranged from monumental parks to the hanging gardens of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Raising alarms about Amazon destruction decades before it became fashionable to do so, Mr. Burle Marx warned in 1971:

“I fear that by the time people become enlightened, there won’t be any more forests in this country.”

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