Sara Zewde Sows, and Dia Beacon Reaps

When it is introduced this year, the new and varied terrain of Dia Beacon, with its sculptural landforms, meadowlands and pathways, may surprise and delight.

Sara Zewde, the landscape architect who received the high-profile commission in 2021 to reimagine the museum’s eight back acres, says the goal wasn’t just dressing up Dia’s buildings with attractive plants. She sees her profession as a field “that has the skill set to take ecology, to take culture, to take people and tap into something bigger.”

Her conviction that shaping land can illuminate, rather than merely beautify, places and their stories lies at the heart of Studio Zewde, the landscape and urban design firm she founded in Harlem in 2018. Since then she has taught at Harvard University and is writing a book about her profession’s founding father, Frederick Law Olmsted, linking his vision of urban parks as critical to the future of democracy with his earlier travels through the antebellum South as a journalist and abolitionist.

“It doesn’t matter what project we’re doing, if it’s a parking lot or a museum landscape — there’s an opportunity to mobilize and provoke,” said Zewde (pronounced ZO-dee), who at 37 is one of a very small number of Black women in the field and is paving the way for others.

Rendered view from the portage, looking north toward the museum, shows new pathways and Hawthorn trees and a mosaic of grasses in sculptural landforms.Credit…Studio Zewde

Zewde doesn’t arrive with a singular aesthetic, and that isn’t always a good fit for those impatient to know what a project will look like. “We often don’t work well with those clients,” she said wryly in a video interview from Brazil. But her layered process was the selling point for the leadership at Dia Beacon. Situated in the sprawling former Nabisco box printing factory on 32 acres in the Hudson Valley, adjacent to the river and part of its historic flood plain, the museum houses the Dia Art Foundation’s collection of monumental works by conceptual, minimalist and land artists.

Back to top button