DOWNTOWN MIAMI | LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE
After 20 years Miami is celebrating the completion of Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx’s geometric designs for Biscayne Boulevard downtown.
BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI
The next time you find yourself walking along the sidewalk on Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami, look down. You’re stepping on cultural treasure.
It’s a safe bet few people notice the swirling orange-and-gray sidewalk paving patterns. The rhythmic geometry, in truth, can best be appreciated only from high up.
Fewer still know that legendary Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, perhaps best known for his not-dissimilar sidewalk designs for Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, created the Biscayne Boulevard plan back in the late 1980s.
Since then, the colored concrete pavers have been put in place bit by bit by bit, as development and road reconstruction occurred. And now the last piece just north of Northeast Sixth Street is complete, marking a continuous Burle Marx ribbon along both sides of the Boulevard and the median, all the way from Southeast Second Street to Northeast 13th Street by the Arsht Center.
Never once does the pattern repeat itself along the full length of the Boulevard.
The completion of Burle Marx’s Miami-New World Design is something worth celebrating, say officials at the Downtown Development Authority, who have decided it’s time Miamians knew about the art right under their feet. On Friday, the semi-independent city agency formally dedicated the Burle Marx sidewalks with a street party to the beat of a bossa-electronica ensemble flown in from Rio.
“We have a real treasure on our hands,” said DDA vice chairman Neisen Kasdin, noting it’s only one of a handful of Burle Marx works in the United States. “To me, this is a signature for Miami. It should be preserved, promoted and expanded.”
There is still more to be done, including more-extensive plantings called for in the plan by Burle Marx, who died in 1994.
The DDA, which has adopted the plan — something of an orphan in the city bureaucracy — is pledging to see it through. It will form a trust to oversee the full completion, make improvements and ensure the sidewalks are not marred by careless repairs or poor placement of signs and other “street junk,” as DDA Director Alyce Robertson put it.
The project was the brainchild of a young Cuban-American city planner with a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Harvard who interned in Burle-Marx’s office in Rio. Ana Gelabert-Sanchez, today the city’s planning director, helped the city recruit Burle-Marx and worked closely with him on the plan.
It took so long to finish because the 1988 ordinance that mandated the paving patterns called for developers to pay for installation as they undertook construction on each individual parcel along the Boulevard.
The largest chunk was completed last year by the Florida Department of Transportation as part of a reconstruction project.
“The city has stuck to this design over the years, faithfully, but it took a while for the development to occur,” Robertson said. “We’re still trying to piece together the history of the plans, and what may be missing.”
There are, too, questions of how closely the execution hews to Burle Marx’s vision. Few will dispute that what’s in place — guided by the late designer’s professional partner, Haruyoshi Ono — is a simpler version of Burle Marx’s conception, at least judging against the more vibrant and intricate original renderings.
“The design is as good as his other projects, but it was not implemented in the same way,” said Jean-Francois Lejeune, an architecture professor at the University of Miami. “I think we should still be proud of it and people should be made aware of it.”
Lejeune hopes one missing piece — a colorful plaza at the base of the deep-water slip astride Bicentennial Park — will eventually be installed as part of the Museum Park project.
“It would make a lot of sense,” he said. “There was a very beautiful design there.”