The son of a building contractor, van Sweden grew up in a large Dutch community in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Michigan and studied landscape architecture at Delft University of Technology in 1960. After three years in the Netherlands he returned to the U.S. and became a partner at Marcou, O'Leary and Associates. In 1977, he founded a partnership with Wolfgang Oehme. The Washington, D.C. firm encompasses architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design. The Federal Reserve Gardens (1977) is considered their breakthrough project, introducing their signature “New American Garden” style to a wider audience.
Composed of native grasses and perennial plantings in tapestry-like drifts, this style celebrates the seasonal splendor of the American meadow while promoting its inherent ecological and sustainable values. Van Sweden has promoted these ideas with numerous lectures and books, including Bold Romantic Gardens (1990, co-authored with Mr. Oehme), Gardening with Water (1995), Gardening with Nature (1997), and Architecture in the Garden (2003).
In addition to a large residential practice, the firm’s work includes the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Gardens of the Great Basin at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and the United States Embassy site in Kabul, Afghanistan.