Landscape Literacy

Giants of Landscape Architecture: James Van Sweden

Photo: Roger Foley

A local boy, James van Sweden was born in Baltimore, MD and spent much of his career in landscape architecture in Washington, DC. His dream was to lead the revolution against the modern American landscape. Rather than  large expanses of lawn and simple foundation plantings, his alternative was to create a private oasis filled with large masses of plant materials and whimsical chaos reminiscent of an old English kitchen-garden. He worked with his associate Wolfgang Oehme, who shared a similar belief that the landscape should be naturalistic and unmanicured. His designs made use of visual effects, from the light and shadows cast by the sun, to the wind patterns that blow the masses of large herbaceous plants and grasses, to the hardscape patterns and unique water features.

Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC. Photo: Roger Foley

Photo: Roger Foley

Van Sweden wanted everyone to “think big” even if you have minimal space, using tall grasses and plants with large flowers and leaves. He designed naturalized spaces to almost look like they were part of the natural landscape. The work of James van Sweden and his firm can be seen gracing university campuses, embassies, monuments, and private homes of many prestigious clients, including Oprah Winfrey. His landscape architecture designs in Washington, DC can be seen at the National Arboretum, the Treasury Building, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Federal Reserve building, among many others in the Washington, DC area.

N Street - D & A Dunlevy Landscapers

Residence in downtown Washington, DC. Photo: Roger Foley