Brazilian Flair Comes to New York

Copabananas, an installation inspired by Roberto Burle Marx at the Cooper Hewitt museum

Copabananas, an installation inspired by Roberto Burle Marx at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

A bold black and white undulating wave contrasts against the lush garden surrounding it. Enjoying the warm weather, visitors lounge on the wave while reading, chatting, and watching passersby.

The wave is a series of modular benches in the Cooper Hewitt’s Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden. The Cooper Hewitt, which neighbors the Jewish Museum, was inspired by our current exhibition Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist to make this wave.

The benches, called Copabananas, playfully reference Burle Marx’s famous pavement designs at the Copacabana Beach boardwalk in Rio de Janeiro.  The benches were designed by Hood Design Studio, led by National Design Award winner Walter Hood, the head architect of the garden’s redesign in 2015.

Avenida Atlântica, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, pavement designed by Roberto Burle Marx, 1970 © Burle Marx Landscape Design Studio, Rio de Janeiro. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Burle Marx was one of the most prominent landscapes architects of the 20th century, as well as an ecologist and a multifaceted artist. He is recognized as a pioneer for introducing modernist aesthetics to the field of landscape architecture. Deeply inspired by nature, Burle Marx’s designs are marked by abstract shapes, asymmetry, and bold colors.

A consummate cook, Burle Marx once remarked, “It is the contrast of colors, textures, and flavors between dishes that adds value to a meal.” This creative philosophy clearly extended from his culinary pursuits to his experiments with garden designs.

Born in Brazil, Burle Marx attended art school in Germany before returning to his native country to begin his career as a landscape architect. He distanced his gardens from traditional models, which were marked by order and symmetry (such as the Versailles gardens) by creating landscapes that were more organically composed. Significantly, he also incorporated local vegetation, instead of using the imported European flora that had been in vogue since colonial times. In this way, Burle Marx created a distinctly Brazilian, and modern, style of landscape architecture.

The Cooper Hewitt benches are reminiscent of a snake or a winding river, speaking to Burle Marx’s nature-inspired works. They mirror the wavy Portuguese tiles that run alongside the mosaic pavement pattern, spanning more than two miles of the Copacabana beach promenade that Burle Marx designed and completed in 1970.

In celebration of Roberto Burle Marx, the Cooper Hewitt will also host two Brazilian-inspired nights with music, dancing, and cocktails as part of the museum’s Cocktails at Cooper Hewitt series. The first, on Thursday, July 7, will showcase music from the Brazilian-inspired percussion ensemble Harlem Samba. The second, on Thursday, July 28, will host Chief Boima, a Sierra Leonean-American music producer and DJ.

Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist is on view at Jewish Museum through September 18. Tickets for Cocktails at the Cooper Hewitt are $13 online or $15 at the door. Present your Jewish Museum admission sticker or Jewish Museum member card at the Cooper Hewitt Visitor Experience desk at 2 E. 91st Street for $5 off.

— Gabby Brooks, Digital Marketing Intern