Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Sidewalks of Copacabana -- A Design that Enriches Rio de Janeiro

Roberto Burle Marx made many beautiful things for Brazil. His sidewalk for the beach side of Avenida Atlantica in the Copacabana district of Rio de Janeiro is perhaps his greatest design. Burle Marx's repeated strips of black and white stones have become a symbol for Rio.

This type of stone sidewalk, called pedra portuguesa, has been built for many years in Rio. Burle Marx did not invent it. Neither did he use unusual colors (black and white are standard), nor did he pioneer abstract geometric patterns.

What Burle Marx did was combine, in abstract form, some of the most powerful imagery in Rio de Janeiro. His curves complement those of the waves and sand next to the sidewalk, as well as of the mountains. The black and white stone may also refer to the African and European populations in Rio, in a sensual dance.

Symbolism, though, is not enough for a good design. It must engage the eye. Burle Marx's lines are dynamic, constantly moving away from, or towards, each other as the eye crosses the pattern. They are only momentarily parallel, never static.

(Early morning exercisers, above).

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