Reading Roberto Burle Marx

Plan for the roof garden of the Ministry of Education and Health, Rio de Janeiro, 1938. Gouache on board. (Ellen Grossman, courtesy Conrad Hamerman)

Plan for the roof garden of the Ministry of Education and Health, Rio de Janeiro, 1938. Gouache on board. (Ellen Grossman, courtesy Conrad Hamerman)

Landscape architect Amy Magida moderated a fascinating discussion between Dennis McGlade, FASLA and Conrad Hamerman, FASLA for the latest issue of Context, the quarterly journal of the AIA's Philadelphia chapter. McGlade and Hamerman reflect upon the early inspiration that Roberto Burle Marx provided each of them to pursue landscape architecture, in spite of and inspiring still more contradictions of the type Burle Marx would no doubt be proud. McGlade, the bored business student in Chicago, discovered his own passion for design in the artistry of Burle Marx's built work. Hamerman, who first encountered Burle Marx while wandering the botanical gardens of Brazil as an itinerant artist and aspiring horticulturist, would become his friend and mentor's unofficial American business partner and press agent.    

Assisting Amy in her initial research for the piece was an opportunity to get reacquainted with the great Brazilian modernist myself. And while he and the critical reception of his work were equally prolific, I think I was able to reduce the full bibliography down to a list of essential texts (two books, two catalogues, and one published interview) that I would recommend to anyone whose curiosity is piqued.

The best place to start is Marta Iris Montero's Roberto Burle Marx: The Lyrical Landscape, which includes a brief but insightful introduction to Burle Marx's life as well as a visually rich tour of his work (both on the land and on canvas). Montero's survey precedes a comprehensive project list and bibliography.

Left: Roberto Burle Marx painting, ca. 1940 (Roberto Burle Marx office archive, photographer unknown). Right: Consulting a book on De Kooning, Sitio, 1991 (photograph by Conrad Hamerman).

Left: Roberto Burle Marx painting, ca. 1940 (Roberto Burle Marx office archive, photographer unknown).

Right: Consulting a book on De Kooning, Sitio, 1991 (photograph by Conrad Hamerman).

Conrad Hamerman conducted an interview of Roberto Burle Marx himself for a special Brazil-themed issue of the Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts in 1994. The conversation, mournfully entitled "Roberto Burle Marx: The Last Interview" (free online through JSTOR), is a very personal reflection on Burle Marx's life and work that benefits from Hamerman's special access to both.

Roberto Burle Marx: The Modernity of Landscape is a companion to the 2011 retrospective of Burle Marx's work by the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine in Paris. It includes his own essays "Concepts of composition in landscape architecture" (1954) and "Landscape architecture in the city" (1983), as well as critical readings that place his work at the nexus of modern art, urban planning, and ecology.

© Actar Publishers

© Actar Publishers

Roberto Burle Marx: The Unnatural Art of the Garden is a slim companion to the 1991 Museum of Modern Art exhibit that highlighted Burle Marx's aesthetic influences and objectives, most notably the effects of abstract and modern painting on his garden designs.

Roberto Burle Marx: Landscapes Reflected, from Princeton Architectural Press's "Landscape Views" series, is a very short collection of essays that place Burle Marx's work in the context of Brazilian landscape architecture and the Brazilian modernist movement.