"The twentieth-century landscape architect is asked to design many different things - impressive gardens or garden retreats; roadside shoulders, parks and boulevards, commemorative monuments or public areas, botanical gardens and sometimes plant nurseries, which may be objects of extraordinary beauty." The narrating voice of Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx (1909-1994) echoes throughout the pages of the catalogue accompanying the exhibit Roberto Burle Marx, the Permanence of the Unstable, held in Paris at the Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine after having travelled to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Berlin. The show celebrates the successful and original landscape practice of a courageous interpreter of 20th century Brazilian culture who was able to combine the exuberance of tropical nature with modernist architectural forms inspired by a deep ecological awareness.
The first pages of the catalogue, published in English and French, contain an evocative portrait of Burle Marx in the greenhouses of Sítio Santo Antônio da Bica, reverberating the unique visual effect generated by the ripados that filter sunlight along with the vitality of an aesthetic experience in which art and nature interact and merge. The multifaceted and fertile approach characterizing the modus operandi of a talented professional - landscape architect, designer, painter, sculptor, expert botanist, musician and designer - is accepted and discussed from different points of view and with interesting interpretations in the various essays contained in this valid publication.
The design approach emphasized by Burle Marx in one of his first lectures entitled "Concepts of Composition in Landscape Architecture" (1954) confirms the essential principles and novel goals that are not separated from inspired ecological awareness along with the rigorous educational intent meant to promote the Brazilian landscape as a fundamental component of the country's national identity. Jacques Leenhardt deserves merit in having perceived an aesthetic essentiality in Burle Marx's work that seeks to resolve the tension between local values and universal language and his interest in "a pedagogical and ecological approach that could be seen as the idea of the garden as a microcosm of Brazil."
The landscape architect’s recognized ethical dimension recalls the emergence of a new collective culture driven by an ecological rationale in defence of Brazilian nature.
Burle Marx himself vindicates a highly developed and completely autonomous discipline, which, starting from a living material, is transformed and possesses specific attributes. "The art of designing a garden is one of the most - if not the most - complex of all arts, requiring an understanding of other arts, and a willingness to learn from nature," Burle Marx explains in his lecture "The Garden as Art Form" (1962) which introduces the catalogue's second section. His creative activity, on the edge between art and architecture, generates radically modern forms and unusual visual experiences recognized in his painting, discussed by Lélia Coelho Frota, and in some projects for private gardens, selected and accurately described by André Corrêa do Lago.
The volume concludes with an article by Francis Ramber who moves from a concept of "nature-city" to extend the framework to the contemporary scene through two interesting conversations with Gilles Clément and Patrick Blanc. The botanical richness and deep sensitivity to the architectonic quality of tropical plants identified by these two specialists in the work of the Brazilian landscape architect are represented in the photos taken for the Paris exhibit by Leonardo Finotti. The eloquent photographs, along with the brilliant and extremely elaborate drawings - on display and partly reproduced in the catalogue thanks to Studio Burle Marx & Cia. Ltd still under the leadership of his close associate Haruyoshi Ono - corroborate the tremendous expressive power and quality in the work of a figure who is key for understanding Brazilian modernism. Barbara Boifava