table scape with book and ashtray

Mia Lehrer on Landscape as Art

The president and founder of StudioMLA recalls the ways Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx has shaped her practice.

Growing up in the tropics of El Salvador shaped my strong connection to nature—both to its beauty and to the way it finds solutions to problems by adapting, transforming, and thriving. 

Modern Brazilian landscape architect and artist Roberto Burle Marx’s work (like his landscaping for Ibirapuera Park, shown in the diagram on the left above) was based on a deep understanding of nature. Along with others in his generation of the Modernist vanguard—like Le Corbusier, Alexander Calder, Joan Miró, and Alvar Aalto—he was eager to create a new identity rooted in local culture.

Marx’s gardens and public spaces are expressions of art. Colors and textures meet in modern compositions of plants, walls, benches, and paving, each reflecting a clear aesthetic intention that is grounded by science. He also spent years traveling the world to collect and learn about plants. As a result, his robust collection of flower vases and garden objects is a portrait of diverse communities and regions. 

In meeting Burle Marx a few times, I found his passion and vision contagious. Since then, every time I start a new project, whether a design for a garden, a master plan for a city, or a public landscape, I see a canvas.

portrait of Mia Lehrer
Mia Lehrer, FASLA, is president and founder of Studio-MLA, a landscape architecture, planning, and urban design practice based in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The recipient of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s 2021 National Design Award for Landscape Architecture, Lehrer is also a commissioner on The Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners. COURTESY MIA LEHRER

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