Sítio Roberto Burle Marx

Date of Submission: 30/01/2015
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Brazil to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Rio de Janeiro
Coordinates: S23 01 20.56 W43 32 46.4
Ref.: 6001

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Categorization: modern heritage; clearly defined cultural landscape; 20th century; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Roberto Burle Marx Site (SRBM) is a 40.7-acre property, reminiscent of a 18th century farm, located on the Roberto Burle Marx Road No. 2019, in Barra de Guaratiba, a West Zone neighborhood of the city of Rio de Janeiro, in the State of Rio de Janeiro. At its lower part, the site is confined by the Roberto Burle Marx Road, and at the highest by the Morro do Capim Melado ridge, which belongs to the bulk of Pedra Branca. The land rises from an elevation of zero to an altitude of 400m above sea level by the western slope of the hill, and from 100m on the site becomes part of the Pedra Branca State Park.

The property includes, in addition to an extraordinary botanical-landscape collection, seven buildings, five reflecting pools and a museum collection[1] of over more than three thousand items, what constitutes the largest and most important storage of the work of the artist Roberto Burle Marx, recognized worldwide for both his tropical garden designs - the paradigm in the global landscape - as for his extensive production in the field of visual arts in various means of expression: prints, serigraphs, drawings, sculptures, tapestries, paintings on different supports, ceramic panels, jewelry, scenes and costumes for the theater, among others.

In addition to the works produced by Burle Marx, there are three other items preserved at the SRBM: the artist’s library; his residence along with his furniture and personal effects (sacred art collections, pre-Columbian pottery, shells, design objects and folk art.)

The regional native vegetation includes species of the mangrove, restinga and the Atlantic Forest. Living in harmony with the Botanical collection of the Roberto Burle Marx Site, collected in plant nurseries and gardens organized by the artist throughout his life, the collection has about three thousand five hundred cultivated species, with emphasis on indigenous tropical plants from Brazil. Resulting from a systematic collecting and expeditions to various regions of the country, this collection presents an overview of flora and is one of the most important collections of living plants in the world, both in number of individual species as in its diversity.

The importance of SRBM in the cultural landscape of Brazil and the world is related to the development of the landscape and with the historical and cultural era that produced the modern movement in the arts, urbanism, architecture and landscaping. The Roberto Burle Marx Site's relation with these fields of knowledge and cultural manifestations is particularly determined for its unique and complex nature of exceptional place of memory of an internationally renowned artist, and as witness to the influences and processes of creation and experimentation of modern gardens, through which his intellectual and artistic production developed, materialized in an extensive and varied repertoire that includes visual art works and more than 3,000 gardens in various parts of the world.

The Roberto Burle Marx Site tears away the boundaries between the material and the immaterial heritage, between popular and high art; it is a testimony that in real life, nature and culture, architecture and natural, urban and rural landscape are much more intertwined than often imagined. The Roberto Burle Marx performance in the world, creating and inspiring gardens and many other works, having its roots in one place in Barra de Guaratiba (RJ), shows that the local and global are intrinsically articulated. It can be said that “The whole world fit on the site”[2]

As the proposed application is aimed at the cultural heritage category, the physical limits now proposed for the core zone are restricted to the area of the Roberto Burle Marx Site, bound by the front and side walls and 100 meters above sea level, totaling an area around 12:21 hectare, corresponding to 30% of the total land. In this case, the rest of the property, consisting of native forest, would be included in the buffer zone.

The SRBM is now a public property, a special unit of Brazil’s National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN), an autarchy linked to the Brazilian Ministry of Culture. The site is under dual legal protection (in the national and state levels) based on its historical, aesthetic and scenic values. The part of the property situated 100m above is part of three environmental preservation zones[3], all important tools for the conservation and management of the space.

[1] With a view towards a better understanding of the SRBM, we created the following categories of collections: museums, library and botanical-landscapes. In the museum collections category, we included the personal effects of Roberto Burle Marx, his works of art, the collections that he created, the implements used in the house and other cultural goods.

[2] SIQUEIRA, Vera Beatriz. “An unparalleled garden” in Revista de História.com.br, 13/1/2009.

[3] Pedra Branca State Park, State Biological Reserve of Guaratiba and Parque Natural Municipal de Grumari.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

When Roberto Burle Marx was still alive, the site’s unique character of universal value was already widely recognized and supported by intellectuals, experts and world-renowned artists.

Burle Marx, son of a mother from Pernambuco/Brazil and a German father, with classical training in arts, music and landscaping, who studied and lived in Germany and Brazil, was related to exponents of world culture like Lucio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer, Le Corbusier, Cândido Portinari, Heitor Villa Lobos, Stefan Zweig, Leo Putz among others. He was a pioneer in ecology and the defense of the planet's environmental balance. His lectures and reflections versed on the functions of the garden and the Botanical Gardens, the perception of gardens and landscapes as a community’s cultural heritage, the need for nature conservation and preservation through the use and valuation of plant resources. The work of Burle Marx in various fields of knowledge aided emergence to a national level, the debate of conservation and the sustainable use of biological diversity, anticipating, decades before what happened at the Rio-92 Conference in Rio de Janeiro, in which the Biological Diversity Convention was established.

What should be recognized as an exceptional value on the Site is not only the place itself, but also the creative genius of the artist that modeled it, for whom nature and culture were at the same sphere, anterior and superior to man, where humanity is rooted and identified.

Guided by a self-developed aesthetic-philosophical perspective, the intellectual work of Burle Marx produced a change of the worldwide paradigm in the landscaping field, the modern tropical garden, which has become a model of innovation. The artist’s doing transformed the location a modern tropical landscaping icon, with the introduction of plant species brought from all over the world and, above all, from its habitats in Brazil. Plants from wild environments that are now devastated survive in SRBM and, without the work of Roberto Burle Marx, would be unknown today. This can be considered one of Roberto Burle Marx's great values: the genetic natural heritage preserved there.

With a solid artistic and humanistic formation, Roberto Burle Marx developed his knowledge of botany in a self-taught manner. He became interested in landscaping as a young man with the discovery of flora, which curiously took place at the Dahlem Botanical Garden in Germany. Returning to Brazil, he began his career in the city of Recife, the capital of Pernambuco state. Traveling within the Brazilian Northeast, he researched the caatinga and the cerrado biomes and collected plants, later used in the creation of a cacti and Amazonian plants garden, inaugurating the production of genuine Brazilian landscape projects. He continued throughout his life with carrying out observation and collection expeditions, always surrounding himself with botanists, illustrators and other experts. The collections of specimens in different biomes and their multiplication work, domestication and conservation made the assembly of the collection possible, which can be considered a germplasm in a vision of Plant Genetic Resources.

When Burle Marx began designing gardens, the landscaping used in Brazil imitated European models. Even though it may have maintained influences of Baroque, Renaissance and romantic gardens, the new tropical garden proposal does not fall into any of these schools. On the contrary, it is opposed to them, adopting the tropical exuberance as building criteria, with the intensive use of native flora, incorporating national cultural references and pursuing its integration with the surrounding natural environment.

Burle Marx drew attention to the richness of tropical flora, in terms of the diversity and uniqueness of landscapes and plant species; he noticed a huge magnification range of possibilities of landscape vocabulary and of plastic compositions production and masterfully applied this wealth of resources in the development of tropical landscaping. It is possible to say that “nowhere on earth is nature present more powerfully than in Brazil. An irresistible tide of luxuriant rain forest flora engulfs the country’s volcanic topography like a green tsunami. Yet nature met its match in a Brazilian, Roberto Burle Marx, the temperamental genius of 20th century landscape design who is known worldwide for bringing modernism into the garden.”[4]

Marx’s new landscape proposal has been produced in close association with the Modern movement, integrated into the field of arts, architecture and urbanism; thus, it has decisively contributed to the changes produced by the movement, of great impact on the post-war world stage.

The cultural value of SRBM is expressed in the permanent and integrated dialogue between the constituent elements: the native and exotic plants, the surrounding nature, the recommended forefront of landscaping in this space, the existing architecture and the new architecture produced under the guidance of Burle Marx, and the knowledge imparted by the load of meanings that all this set contains. Ultimately, the site conveys, tangible, intangible, historical, aesthetic, artistic and scientific values, all in dialogue with the Brazilian Modern Movement, in a visionary, integrating, exceptional and unique way.

Burle Marx has incorporated his botanical collection, his gardens and new construction to the Site spaces, reminiscent of an old farm, respecting both the physical aspects as well as the social life entailed to them. He restored and kept the small chapel from the 18th century in use, in their tangible and intangible aspects; one example is the maintenance of the open chapel for local residents, with their festivals and ceremonies, allowing the Catholic Church to continue to exercise its religious role there.

Harmoniously coordinating all of the aforementioned, the Roberto Burle Marx Site constitutes an integrated and unique whole, whose gardens, with the asymmetric organization of the topography, and with the incorporation of natural rocks and elements in stone, along with the strong presence of tropical plants, characterize Roberto Burle Marx’s landscaping, whose creative use of plants and cultural references transformed the global landscape.

In short, the configurations of the architectural, landscape and natural sites at Roberto Burle Marx share the same aesthetic and philosophical vocabulary and translate the cultural universe of the creator of the Modern tropical garden, recognized as the most influential landscaper of the 20th century, whose projects stand out by its fine artistic sensibility as much as by its scientific knowledge related to the vegetal communities and their relationship with the environment.

Criterion (i): Understood in its entirety as a work of art - in the broadest sense of the term - the SRBM remarkably mirrors the culture, creative energy and scientific concern of Roberto Burle Marx, whose work of producing the modern concept of tropical garden, constituted a special paradigm within the Brazilian Modernist Movement. The site is a reference of built landscape, a living testimony of change the in the European concept of a garden with the formal accuracy of geometrized composition for the concept of the modernity of the tropical garden as a form of artistic expression.

The SRBM can be thought of as an access portal to the tropical garden, to the extent that it holds significant references over the botanical species and the landscape compositions using time as a fundamental requirement for their completeness. In the site, other elements also stand out such as architectural elements, as the Painting Workshop, a project that hinges a facade in the 19th century stonework with a work of modernist architecture, and the Reception Hall, a prize-winning work consisting of stone elements integrated into the surrounding gardens, with coverage in a reflecting pool and waterfalls. There is no other place in the world where the thinking and forms of Roberto Burle Marx's expression can be accessed and understood as they can be at the artist’s former residence and workshop, the Roberto Burle Marx Site.

It can be said that "within a limited space, using only his own resources, Roberto created a world, a miniature world, praising the beauty of nature and the work of man.  A world where nature has been reinvented and made sacred, where affectionate relationships among creatures were practiced and encouraged. An example to be preserved, enhanced and spread! Roberto dreamed and created a utopia."[5]

This exceptional and unique microcosm, full of cultural and humanistic references of universal value, is why we propose it for recognition as a World Heritage Site.

Criterion (ii): The SRBM is unique because it is the result of a diversity of cultures, Brazilian and European influences , of associations brokered according to the creativity of a twentieth century genius, which influenced in a decisive way how to create landscapes, monumental art and urban planning.

The SRBM expresses a place of various exchanges between:

  1. The living nature and contemporary art, embodied in an exchange without formulas, with intense experimentation and enhancement of native vegetation, combining formal elements such as lines and dashes from the Brazilian Modernist movement;
  2. The botanical science and the built environment, through botanical experiments of acclimatization and multiplication of native and exotic plants, utilizing compositional elements in the architectural environment, rocks, lakes and monumental sculptures in a new proposal for aesthetic association, the tropical garden.
  3. The fine arts and the landscape design, exchanging artistic inspiration in landscape transpiration. The formal association of the species from the visual art of modernist principles creates a living work, a biologically balanced aesthetic set. For him, a plant is a form, a color, a perfume, a living being, with necessities and preferences, with its own personality. (…) we can understand a plant as a sculpture work, that shall be seen in its diverse angles.”[6]

Criterion (iv): At the Roberto Burle Marx site, there are materials, experimentation records, botany reed and inspirations from which, in an exceptional relationship of human interaction with the environment, its creator developed in conceptual and material terms, the tropical garden, the modern landscape paradigm. The SRBM expresses this paradigm in a notably way, articulating garden spaces, architecture and botanical collection, as representative work-synthesis of their contribution to the modern movement.

His landscaping experiments were done at the SRBM; his gardens are a testimony to the development of the tropical garden, watershed in the history of modern and contemporary landscaping. The Burle Marx tropical garden organizes the species in masses and contrasts, where possible, with pristine vegetation. Reflecting pools, rocky elements in stone or in natura, architectural elements and sculptural works form the landscape in an integrated and balanced way, in an environment that is well conserved and that constitutes itself in a complete record of this Brazilian and World Modern Period.

[4] WIJAYA, Made. Modern Tropical Garden Design. Editions Didier Millet PTE LTD, 2011.

[5] Por Carlos Fernando de Moura Delphim, estudioso paisagista brasileiro com longa trajetória no Iphan.

[6] TABACOW, José (org.) Roberto Burle Marx: Arte e Paisagem (conferências escolhidas). Livros Studio Nobel Ltda, 2004. P. 64.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The representative cultural values of the Roberto Burle Marx Site are intact, especially those that highlight the diversity of attributes and express what is known as the authentic modern tropical garden.

The elements that carry the Site's attributes transmit material, immaterial, historical, aesthetic, artistic and scientific values, and materialize concepts of Brazilian Modern movement in a visionary, integrating, and exceptional way. They are:

  • The collection of native and exotic plants grown in nurseries and organized into gardens, adding up to more than 3,500 species, from the Atlantic Forest and Brazilian tropical and subtropical forests, and exotic species, originating from the five continents, acclimated and multiplied;
  • The landscaping - a well maintained example of the concept of "tropical garden," whose components (plant species, rocks, lakes, water features, stone elements, pavements, paths, pergolas, benches etc.), shapes and design of experimental compositions are intact, and whose dialogue with the surrounding landscape, also preserved, form a harmonious whole;
  • The architecture, which features various aesthetic, historical and constructive concepts, with highlights to: the original home of the Santo Antonio da Bica Farm, in stone and lime masonry with ceramic roofing and wooden window frames, renovated and added on to by Roberto Burle Marx; the Chapel of the farm, also from the 18th century and the same materials, restored with the help of Lucio Costa; the Loggia, added to the house with arches in stone reused in nineteenth-century buildings, fountain and tile panel painted by RBM; the Reception Hall, a work in concrete and demolition of hewn stone, with source and panel in painted tiles by RBM, coverage reflecting pool, waterfalls and pergola, built in the 1960s, with the architects Rubens Breitman and Harold Beltran project’s being awarded by the Institute of Architects of Brazil for its character of modernity; the Painting Studio, built in concrete, masonry, iron roof structures and glass and metal elements in frames, integrated with a facade in the 19th century stonework.

In addition to these elements of exceptional value, the SRBM collection is also composed of the art produced and collected from Burle Marx - with classical and popular elements, such as the collections of sacred art, pre-Columbian art, and Brazilian folk art. Burle Marx collected: Ceramics from Vale do Jequitinhonha (MG, Brazil); figureheads from the São Francisco River boats; woodcarvings and pottery from Northeast Brazil, and more. The collection of works of art, both produced as well as collected by the artist, contributes to the understanding of his cultural background and also bears witness to a central feature for the Brazilian Modernist movement, the concern with merging cultural heritage, the influences of the vanguards and local socio-cultural reality.

The SRBM was conceived and built by integrating the existing nature of native species from the Atlantic Forest, Sandbank and Mangrove, with the private collection of tropical and subtropical plants, fostering a dialogue between landscaping architecture and nature; science and art; knowledge and practices; past, present and future, making it a unique place in the world. The environment, the architecture, the botanical collection, the spatial organization of landscape elements, the integration of gardens, works of art and nature, are as its creator designed and expresses the desired modern work, therein lying the spirit of place, the authentic, the original.


At the Roberto Burle Marx Site, the fauna, flora and natural water sources are living elements and therefore their integrity is subject to a number of factors, particularly environmental conditions and the management and conservation processes. The maintenance of appropriate conditions, the registration and the transmission of accumulated knowledge and the maintenance of security of everyday processes of management and conservation are central concerns of the Roberto Burle Marx Site, met as a priority by the unit's annual budget, from its donation to IPHAN.

The proposed site keeps all necessary elements to express its values, preserved and in good condition: the planting beds; shaded nurseries; the irrigation system and all architectural spaces, as well as the collections of art and everyday objects, important for understanding the artist and his work development process. All these elements are inventoried. The landscaped spaces maintain the constructive elements, accessories and the original form, with the textures and colors experimented by Roberto Burle Marx.

The fact that the Site remains as property of the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN) since 1984, while still being subjected to the national instrument of most importance protection, largely contributed to its great conservation conditions.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Roberto Burle Marx Site is representative of the constructed landscape of the 20th century, in the Brazilian and Latin American context. Inspired by modernist principles, it is result of a single creator, artist and landscape architect.

Integrated into the Brazilian Modernist movement, the SRBM dialogues, in terms of places included on the list of World Heritage Sites, with the city of Brasilia and the Pampulha architectural ensemble. The Site is also included in the geographic space and cultural context of the city of Rio de Janeiro within the Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea, a World Heritage Site as well. As in Brasilia, in the Pampulha ensemble and in Rio de Janeiro, the work of Burle Marx plays an important role in the creation of architectural, urban and landscaped spaces, private and public. In the context of the modern Latin American movement of the 20th century, we find some equivalence between the SRBM and the work of Carlos Raúl Villanueva, at Ciudad Universitaria of Caracas, Venezuela, which is configured as a space composed of functional buildings, interspersed by gardens and works art. Both are successful examples, originating from Latin-Americans authors that weave natural, artistic and architectural elements, aligning the international concept of the modern movement to the local context.

The Roberto Burle Marx Site houses a major collection of botanical species, collected and acclimated to the site, just as the cultural landscape of Aranjuez, Spain, representing a complex of relations between man and nature. Both are constructed landscapes, following the aesthetic senses and associated with their respective eras.

In view of the history of landscaping, the SRBM can be inserted in the context of architectural complexes integrated into gardens, many of these examples of Gesamtkunstwerk and representatives of certain moments in humanity’s culture, the development of the art of producing landscapes and gardens: the Royal Exhibition Building and its surrounding Carlton Gardens in Australia; the Palace and the gardens of Schönbrunn, Austria; the Classic Gardens of Suzhou, China; the Gardens and Castle Kroměříž, Czech Republic; the Palace and the Park of Versailles, France; the Dessau-Wörlitz Gardens in Germany; the Persian Garden in the Islamic Republic of Iran; the Villa d'Este in Tivoli, Italy; the house and studio of Luis Barragan, in Mexico; the Blenheim Palace and its romantic park, and the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew, both in the United Kingdom.

The SRBM also dialogues, at the conceptual level, with Muskauer Park or Park Muzakowski, created in the 19th century on the border between Germany and Poland, which, merging with the surrounding countryside, was a pioneer in producing new approaches to landscape design and influenced the development of landscaping in Europe and America. The park has been designed as a “painting with plants”, not evoking the classical landscapes, paradise or the lost perfection, but instead using local plants to enhance the qualities inherent in the existing landscape.

Therefore, it is possible to say that the collection composed of the Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens represents, for the European Baroque, the same as Roberto Burle Marx is for the modern movement[7]: an exceptionally well-preserved example of a set of architecture and landscaping, an example of Gesamtkunstwerk, a masterful fusion of many art forms. Just like the Muskauer Park, another well-regarded cultural heritage of humanity, the SRBM is an exceptional example of landscaping, which opened up new prospects for development in the direction of an ideal landscape produced by man. In the words of Roberto Burle Marx: "the garden is nature organized by and for man”.

[7] Modern Movement in the sense stated by the internacional organization DOCOMOMO – Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement.