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Buoyed by the bossa nova experimentalism of mid-century Brazil, an opera-loving landscape architect struck out against the diktats of cool modernism.

For Le Corbusier, the rainforests of South America reminded him of “the horrible mold” that would collect in and around his mother’s homemade jars of jam. The open expanse of the Amazon struck the famed modernist with, if not fear exactly, then at least a great deal of frustration. With tropics and wildlife, the impulse to control was futile.

For the Brazilian designer Roberto Burle Marx, however, who was studying European modernism in Berlin while Le Corbusier was flying over the Amazon, the tropics were not an intractable “mold” but instead represented the possibility of rethinking design’s relationship to nature altogether. What if, instead of the kind of concrete-poured control that Le Corbusier insisted upon, landscape design might be integrated within its surroundings? Burle Marx’s best-known work—an undulating design of white, black and brown paving stones along the

  • Words:
    Cody Delistraty
  • Photography:
    Thomas D. Mcavoy/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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  • Words:
    Cody Delistraty
  • Photography:
    Thomas D. Mcavoy/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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