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Reviewed by:
  • Roberto Burle Marx Lectures: Landscape as Art and Urbanism ed. by Gareth Doherty, and: Depositions: Roberto Burle Marx and Public Landscapes Under Dictatorship by Catherine Seavitt Nordenson
  • Marc Treib (bio)
Gareth Doherty, Editor. 2018. Lars Müller Publishers. 288 pages. Paperback ISBN: 978-3-03778-379-5.
Catherine Seavitt Nordenson. 2018. University of Texas Press. 336 pages. Hardback ISBN: 978-1-4773-1573-6.

Some people write to inform, others to explain, entertain, inspire, critique—and, of course, for reasons that mix any of these intentions. Other writers explain or critique those writings. Those in practice often use writings to present design proposals, guide their realizations, or perhaps only to rationalize rather than explain the ideas behind them. At a more profound level, designers use words to elucidate ideas difficult to express in materials or space, to proselytize and persuade, but also—and more importantly—to inform or argue with a scope far broader than that of a single project.

Roberto Burle Marx (1909–1994) is a household name in landscape architectural circles, acknowledged as one of the masters of modern landscape architecture. The Burle Marx landscape, which today has come to symbolize modern landscape architecture in Brazil more broadly, conjoined an approach to planting design informed by deep horticultural knowledge, with an artistic regard for form, color, space, and vegetal morphology—all developed in parallel with the landscape architect’s artistic production as a painter, printmaker, and jewelry designer. Given an international notoriety rooted in bio-based aesthetics, his interests may appear somewhat removed from daily life, environmental activism, and the mechanisms of a repressive government. Nestled in his Sítio San Antônio da Bica—the extensive compound in Barra de Guaratiba some thirty miles southeast of Rio de Janeiro—it would seem Burle Marx spent his life devoted only to the production of environmentally sensitive and [End Page 81] visually stunning landscapes, living a life enriched by plant-finding expeditions and meals shared with a large group of friends and visitors, who were at times regaled with a song delivered in their host’s rich baritone voice.

Since 1964, when the first monograph in English on Burle Marx appeared, there have been numerous books published on the man and his landscapes.1 These books have tended to be visually engaging, hagiographic, and to some degree superficial, given their authors’ dearth of archival research. A notable exception to this generalization is Guilherme Mazza Dourado’s Modernidade Verde: Jardins de Burle Marx (2009), which was sadly published only in Portuguese.2 With free access to the office archives and lengthy discussions with the late Haruyoshi Ono—then office chief and successor after Burle Marx’s death—and of course also informed by site visits and discussions with clients, Mazza Dourado’s study achieved a depth unmatched to date. Following this first study he also edited two volumes of Burle Marx correspondence: one comprising letters written to the landscape architect, the other, correspondence from him.3 All of this is to say, that despite the number of publications, at least those appearing in English, a comprehensive presentation of the ideas and work of this brilliant Brazilian has been absent.

In recent months that narrow vision has been considerably widened, and adjusted, by the publication of two significant books whose contents convincingly demonstrate that Burle Marx was hardly the detached design professional or aesthete. To the contrary, these books show that Burle Marx was an engaged citizen who took an active role in fighting against the environmental degradation of his country at both the local and national levels. Together the books accomplish nothing less than a major overhaul of our vision of the man and his mission, or perhaps better stated, they enrich it.

Roberto Burle Marx, Lectures: Landscape as Art and Urbanism, edited by Gareth Doherty, collects the texts from Burle Marx’s lectures given in English over a roughly two and a half decade period. The subjects of his talks vary...


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pp. 81-84
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