James Van Sweden

James Van Sweden

James A. van Sweden’s academic and professional achievements reflect multidisciplinary skills in architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design. Early in his career he worked as a town planner in Amsterdam and then as an urban designer and landscape architect for a distinguished firm in Washington, D.C. In 1975 he founded the firm of Oehme, van Sweden & Associates with the renowned landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme who’s controversial use of native grasses had captivated the young Van Sweden on his early visits to the US. The partnership quickly became know for starting a revolution in landscape design call the “New American Garden” style. The New American Garden frees plants from forced and artificial forms and allows them to seek a natural course as they weave a tapestry across the entire garden plane. The results are layered masses of foliage that boldly celebrate the ephemeral through mystery, intrigue, and discovery. Built elements share importance equally with the plants. Carefully designed walls, terraces, steps, and other “hardscape” features complement the surrounding “softscape.” Upon entering a garden, the visitor’s attention is drawn first to dramatic spectacles of planting and then to the practical beauty of built elements that firmly anchor the garden to the ground plane.

James van Sweden, an influential landscape architect who drew inspiration from the grand masters of painting to create vivid, naturalistic landscapes that seemed to explode with grasses and wildflowers, died last Friday at his home in Washington. He was 78. (NY Times, 9/26/2013)

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