11 November 2015
From the promenade of Copacabana Beach to the gardens of the government ministries in Brasilia, from Flamengo Park in Rio de Janeiro to the Parque del Este in Caracas, Roberto Burle Marx was the man who created an international language in the field of landscape architecture. In years in which Brazil was in search of its identity, the taste for the exotic held sway and Europe was the first point of reference, Burle Marx was able renew the role of the landscape architect in its ethical and aesthetical dimensions and promote a culture of a strongly ecological character in defense of the local nature. His works are the product of a sound approach rooted in art and in assimilation, where what he found at the sites on which he worked, from their topography to the native species, became an integral element of his perfectly designed and still contemporary gardens. Burle Marx loved to play with these elements and Vargem Grande, located on the slopes of the Serra da Bocaina in Brazil, is one of the least known examples, although of very great value. Many years were required to arrive at the subtle cyclic, and therefore natural, perfection that characterizes the garden of the fazenda (dating from 1837), created together with his close friend Clemente Fagundes Gomes, owner of the plantation. In 1973 work began on the reclamation and expansion of the farm, carried out with such attention to what already existed that today it is almost impossible to tell the new volume apart. The interiors were treated in a way that shows respect for the stratification of time, and have recently undergone a further process of modernization. But the true beating heart of the estate is its garden: five plays of water, nineteen cascades, two pools and stone sculptures that contain collections of bromeliads and agaves, all laid out on three different levels. The plants are both indigenous and native to other countries, like Brazilian culture itself, able to absorb influences from all over the world. Each part reveals a whole in continual movement, where the passing of the different seasons can be perceived. Today the fazenda of Vargem Grande has been turned into a guest house in a refined mixture of styles that remind visitors of the place’s long history. Here Isabel, Malu and Ana, the daughters of Clemente Fagundes Gomes, put up students of architecture, landscape designers, botanists and photographers in a setting that retains the elegant and homelike atmosphere of a traditional farmhouse. Inside the furnishings vary in form and date, with the most recent ones designed and built by Clemente Gomes himself, and make a fine show in the main rooms, along with drawings and a tapestry by Burle Marx.