Roberto Burle Marx was the first Brazilian landscape artist to depart from the classical principles of garden design, introducing asymmetrical plans that have influenced landscape artists around the world, as has his use of native vegetation, colorful pavements, and free-form bodies of water. His knowledge and cultivation of myriad species of plants have been cornerstones of his designs; by choosing plants that would naturally thrive in the climate of the site, and by including evergreens and perennials, Burle Marx has produced gardens that are easy to maintain and in keeping with the concepts of modern living.
Burle Marx is a painter by training, and his designs, with their careful juxtapositions of contrasting colors, shapes, and textures, have been likened to paintings, or living works of art. In his gouache plan for the Burton Tremaine Beach House, interlocking amoebic shapes curve sinuously, filling the landscape with an abstract rhythmic design. Whimsical and somewhat reminiscent of Surrealist compositional forms, they evoke the work of Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, and Joan Miró. An aspect of Burle Marx's gardens that cannot appear in the plan is their sculptural, three-dimensional quality; the flowerbeds that appear in this drawing might typically have been elevated and tiered.
The drawing also shows Burle Marx working to integrate landscape design and architecture, making the focal point of the composition the Tremaine Beach House, designed by Oscar Niemeyer. By enclosing the house in glass walls, Niemeyer erased the visual barrier between interior and exterior, bringing the garden and ocean views inside. Brise soleils—sun-breakers, or screens-along these walls permit privacy and easy control of light without obstructing the views outside. Oddly, neither Niemeyer nor Burle Marx had visited the California site when they prepared their plan; they worked from photographs sent to them in Brazil. Perhaps this intensified the dialogue between them, resulting in a unified aesthetic. The two men had earlier collaborated with Le Corbusier on the Ministry of Education and Public Health Building in Rio de Janeiro (1936-43), and Le Corbusier's rational architecture had in general been a departure point for Niemeyer. In the Tremaine Beach House, however, he broke away from Le Corbusier's tightly geometric curves toward the less restrictive, more free-form architecture for which he is known. Burle Marx and Niemeyer went on to work on several future collaborations, including the Ibirapuera Park project, São Paulo.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Luisa Lorch, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 102.