The New American Garden

The Landscape Architecture of Oehme, van Sweden

October 17, 2015–May 1, 2016

Slifka Beach House. Photo by Sara Cedar Miller, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Wolfgang Oehme (1930-2011) and James van Sweden (1935-2013) revolutionized modern American landscape architecture. Rejecting the well-manicured but perpetually thirsty lawns that had become icons of 20th-century suburban neighborhoods and corporate campuses, Oehme and van Sweden instead used ornamental grasses and perennials to create living tapestries requiring relatively little maintenance. These self-sustaining, meadow-like landscapes exemplified what came to be known as the New American Garden.

Founded in 1975 and based in Washington, D.C., the firm of Oehme, van Sweden & Associates went on to design projects for clients across the United States. Residential commissions ranged from urban townhouse gardens in D.C. and New York to expansive waterfront landscapes along the East Coast. The firm also completed high-profile designs for prominent corporate, institutional, and governmental clients including the Federal Reserve Bank in D.C., the Chicago Botanic Garden, and the New York Botanical Garden. Although Oehme and van Sweden are now deceased, the firm continues to operate under the next generation of leadership.

This exhibition will include both contemporary and new photographs of key projects designed by Oehme, van Sweden & Associates over the past several decades, along with related drawings and artifacts from the firm’s practice. A highlight of the exhibition will be the presentation of original paintings and sculptures by prominent artists—such as Henry Moore—that strongly influenced Oehme and van Sweden’s design work. The result will be an unprecedented exploration of the broad arc of landscape design, from early inspirations to project execution to the continuous changes that all landscapes undergo over time.

The exhibition is being organized in collaboration with the Cultural Landscape Foundation.
Access this online gallery guide provided by The Cultural Landscape Foundation before or after your visit.


The National Building Museum gratefully acknowledges Suman Sorg, FAIA; American Society of Landscape Architects; Dr. Tina Alster and Ambassador Paul Frazer; The JBG Companies; Darwina L. Neal, FASLA; and fine arts sponsor, Carolyn Small Alper for their support of The New American Garden.