Roberto Burle Marx and his Wave Pattern

On June 8, 2019 the NY Botanical Garden will open their new exhibit dedicated to Roberto Burle Marx! I visited it this week in a preview and it is spectacular!  You have to see it - #plantlove

The centerpiece of Burle Marx show at #NYBG

I wrote this a few years ago and feel it is the perfect time to share this post again:

Roberto Burle Marx

Roberto Burle Marx (1909-1994) was my idol when I studied landscape architecture at the University of Hawaii in the 1970s: he worked with tropical plants and was trained in painting.

I loved that Burle Marx painted every morning before attending to his design practice and that he said he 'painted his gardens'.

tablecloth design by Burle Marx

 He also asserted that the creation of a garden was 'an attempt to regain a lost paradise'. I could not agree more!

Flamengo park

Burle Marx's grasp of pattern was one of his signature features.  His bold use of color and shape captured the Brazilian culture masterfully and made them pertinent to the twentieth century.

Burle Marx's designs are intimately linked with the Modernist style and Brazil's national identity; his lyrical landscapes have indeed become synonymous with the modern image of Brazil.

He had a painter’s eye and a superb sense of composition and form.  In 1965 the American Institute of Architects (AIA) awarded Burle Marx its fine-arts prize, calling him 'the real creator of the modern garden'.

In 1991, the Museum of Modern Art in New York held their first exhibition dedicated to a landscape architect.

Ministry of Health and Education roof garden, Rio de Janeiro,1938

Burle Marx not only explored ideas through a variety of artistic media such as painting and etching he was also an expert horticulturist with several species named after him.

He collected more than 3,500 different species, and grew, studied and multiplied the plants he used in his projects.

His painterly gardens led to his assignment as the designer of the celebrated mosaic pavements along Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. 

The Copacabana promenade was completed in 1972 and used a black and white geometric wave originally introduced in the early 1900s by Portuguese artisans using patterns typical of Portuguese walkways.

Rossio Square in Lisbon

Rossio Square in Lisbon
This wave pattern  alternates black-and-white waves composed of small stones cut and laid by hand. In his extension of the pavements, Burle Marx retained the original pattern of the beachfront pavement but accentuated the curves.

For the new pavement on the opposite side of the seafront and in the street islands, he used the same black and white stones combined with a red one to create an abstract mosaic that pays tribute to the colonial artisan tradition. His juxtaposition of the old and new is an eloquent blending of fine art with utilitarian purpose.

It was this blending of art and craft, plants and pavement, old and new, and artifice and nature that made Roberto Burle Marx the giant that he was.

Photograph source: Escritório Burle Marx


  1. Seeing the photo of Flamingo Park, I can't help but think of the rose garden designed by Fletcher Steele at Naumkeag. Are the dates roughly similar? Is there more than congruity of time that makes these two designs so similar?

    1. I think you are right - that wavy design....


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