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Roberto Burle Marx and Public Landscapes under Dictatorship

Presenting the first English translation of Burle Marx’s “depositions,” this volume highlights the environmental advocacy of a preeminent Brazilian landscape architect who advised and challenged the country’s military dictatorship.

April 2018
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336 pages | 7 x 10 | 161 b&w photos, 20 b&w maps |

“Burle Marx created a new and modern grammar for international landscape design.”
—Lauro Cavalcanti, quoted in the New York Times

“The real creator of the modern garden.”
—American Institute of Architects

Roberto Burle Marx (1909–1994) is internationally known as one of the preeminent modernist landscape architects. He designed renowned public landscapes in Brazil, beginning with small plazas in Recife in the 1930s and culminating with large public parks in the early 1960s, most significantly the Parque do Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro. Depositions explores a pivotal moment in Burle Marx’s career—the years in which he served as a member of the Federal Cultural Council created by the military dictatorship in the mid-1960s. Despite the inherent conflict and risk in working with the military regime, Burle Marx boldly used his position to advocate for the protection of the unique Brazilian landscape, becoming a prophetic voice of caution against the regime’s policies of rapid development and resource exploitation.

Depositions presents the first English translation of eighteen environmental position pieces that Burle Marx wrote for the journal Cultura , a publication of the Brazilian Ministry of Education and Culture, from 1967 through 1973. Catherine Seavitt Nordenson introduces and contextualizes the depositions by analyzing their historical and political contexts, as well as by presenting pertinent examples of Burle Marx’s earlier public projects, which enables a comprehensive reading of the texts. Addressing deforestation, the establishment of national parks, the place of commemorative sculpture, and the unique history of the Brazilian cultural landscape, Depositions offers new insight into Burle Marx’s outstanding landscape oeuvre and elucidates his transition from prolific designer to prescient counselor.


Recipient of 2019 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize, Foundation for Landscape Studies

On The Brinck Book Award and Lecture Series, University of New Mexico

  • Introduction: Roberto Burle Marx and the Ecological Modern
  • Chapter 1. Constructing Culture in Brazil: Politics and the Public Landscape
  • Chapter 2. Forest Narratives
    • Brazilian Landscapes, April 27, 1967
    • Suggestions for the Preservation of National Parks, August 1967
    • Forest Politics and the Destruction of Forests, March 25, 1969
    • Forest Conservation, February 12, 1971
  • Chapter 3. Landscapes of the Baroque Interior
    • Parks, Gardens, and Public Plazas, May 23, 1968
    • Cultural Contribution, November 28, 1968
    • Defense of Nature Reserves, June 27, 1969
    • Defense of the Landscape, August 25, 1969
  • Chapter 4. Large Parks, Statues, and Disfigurement
    • Statues in Gardens, August 29, 1968
    • Sacrificed Landscape, January 28, 1969
    • Preservation of Landscape Conditions, September 17, 1970
    • Landscape Complex, July 7, 1973
    • Green Spaces, July 11, 1973
  • Chapter 5. The Scientific Park
    • Current Conditions at the Botanical Garden, February 7, 1968
    • The Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro, September 27, 1968
    • The Botanical Garden and Woodland Nursery, August 26, 1969
    • The Botanical Garden of Belo Horizonte, May 6, 1970
  • Chapter 6. Military Gardens
    • Garden and Ecology, July–September 1969
  • Epilogue: The Counselor
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index

New York, New York

A registered architect and landscape architect, Seavitt Nordenson is an associate professor at the City College of New York. She coauthored On the Water: Palisade Bay and coedited Waterproofing New York.


Depositions offers an understanding of Burle Marx beyond his gardens and parks; it is a solid introduction to both his work and Brazil’s quest to establish its cultural identity.”
Architectural Record

Depositions is a well-researched, well-written, and laudatory study that substantially adds to, and significantly amends, our view of Burle Marx as a landscape architect and cultural figure.”
Landscape Journal

“[Depositions] opens new perspectives on Burle Marx's work, revealing facets of his celebrated projects and legacy that too often go unspoken…This seminal book will enable greater understanding not only of Burle Max's position as a designer operating under dictatorial conditions but also of the convoluted circumstances underlying Brazil's modern architectural history.”
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

“[Depositions] sheds new light on Burle Marx’s intellectual position and serves as a valuable map of the local sociopolitical context, in its complexities and contradictions since colonial times.”
ABE Journal

“At the center of Catherine Seavitt Nordenson’s masterly volume is Roberto Burle Marx: a visionary proselytizer for modernism, environmentalism, landscape design, and a Brazilian national aesthetic ethos. Equal parts history, sourcebook, and monograph, Depositions reveals how great and enduring art and ideas can find their way to the fore even during oppressive political regimes.”
Adam Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown Director, Whitney Museum of American Art

“Roberto Burle Marx’s immediately recognizable modernist color palette and organic forms in garden design, paintings, tapestries, and even the famous mosaic stone walkways of Copacabana are virtually synonymous with the popular appearance of Brazilian modernism. The garden designer’s horticultural research is equally renowned. Yet his intellectual positions have scarcely been addressed. Exploiting rarely studied sources, Catherine Seavitt Nordenson establishes the most salient of Burle Marx’s stances as an ecological activist and explores the ways he deployed those positions even during the decades of the Brazilian military dictatorship. A pathbreaking study.”
Barry Bergdoll, Columbia University, coauthor of Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980

“A significant contribution to the scholarship on Roberto Burle Marx’s work. While much has been written about Burle Marx’s prolific design career, this is the first time we learn of him directly engaged in national politics and policymaking. The translations of his depositions alongside their thorough contextualization are invaluable for a deeper understanding of Burle Marx’s impact on the culture of Brazil and modern Latin America.”
Anita Berrizbeitia, Harvard University, author of Roberto Burle Marx in Caracas: Parque del Este, 1956–1961

“Depositions presents a timely translation of Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx’s speeches while a cultural counselor to the military regime in its heyday, notably critiquing its nationalist developmentalist policies and arguing for environmental protection. This book also provides a valuable introduction to the construction of culture by the state in Brazil since colonial times, insightful commentaries on the speeches in relation to Burle Marx’s own landscape designs, and stunning photographs and drawings.”
Carlos Eduardo Comas, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, coauthor of Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955–1980