August 25, 2015

The Legacy of Dan Kiley

A Photographic Exhibit Honors the Landscape Architect

  • Patterns by Dan Kiley
  • Fountain Place by Dan Kiley
  • Millicent Harvey Hamilton Garden
  • Dallas Art Museum

Dan Kiley may be the most legendary landscape architect of whom you’ve never heard. The 20th century American designer, who has more than 1,000 projects to his credit, is known in the design community as a visionary who brought mid-century modern’s visual vocabulary to the art of landscape design. In fact, Kiley was the go-to landscape architect for contemporary architecture projects large and small for decades—working with modernism architects Gordon Bunshaft, Philip Johnson, Louis Kahn, I.M. Pei and Eero Saarinen.

Landscape Architect Dan Kiley

Among his most important and enduring works are the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a major public park in St. Louis, Missouri, which features the arch designed by architect Eero Saarinen; the Ford Foundation’s atrium, a groundbreaking introduction of nature inside a corporate office building in New York City; the Miller House and Garden, a landmark residential project with Saarinen, in Columbus, Indiana; and the Art Institute of Chicago’s South Garden in downtown Chicago. Others of Kiley’s installations, however, have been significantly altered, including his garden at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center courtesy of a recent renovation, and Washington, DC’s Dulles Airport, while still others are sadly dying quiet deaths through neglect.

Inspired by the 100th anniversary of Kiley’s birth in 2012, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) reached out to the landscape design community in hopes of launching a retrospective of Kiley’s work. Today, a traveling photographic exhibition featuring 27 of his notable installations is on display at Dallas Center of Architecture—just one of the exhibit’s many stops. “It is a tribute to this great Modernist landscape architect,” said TCLF Founder and President, Charles A. Birnbaum. “We have received tremendous support from the artists, who donated their time and work, along with professional associations, landscape architecture firms and individuals who underwrote the exhibition.” The exhibit’s 45 commissioned photographs are also featured in the gallery guide, What’s Out There: The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley, along with brief site descriptions, site plans and excerpts from recently collected personal recollections from colleagues. A more in-depth treatment of Kiley’s life and legacy is available on TCLF’s website and the 72-page gallery guide is available for purchase, as well.

Elements of Kiley’s works can be traced to several distinct design influences. As a youth, he worked in the office of Warren Manning, who had worked with Frederick Law Olmstead, another great American landscape architect. Kiley studied architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Wartime moved Kiley to Europe, where he designed the courtroom in which the Nuremberg Trials were held, and he was able to explore the work of André Le Nôtre, the landscape architect of Versailles. “His own work would draw on those influences, uniting Olmsted’s sense of procession and discovery with Le Nôtre’s Cartesian rigor, to form a vocabulary that was distinctly modern,” said Mark Lamster, architecture critic of The Dallas Morning News, in a recent review of the exhibit.

In his review, Lamster includes his thoughts on two of Kiley’s installations in Dallas. “Kiley’s 1983 garden design for the Dallas Museum of Art is one of the city’s great oases but dearly in need of repair. In better condition is his 1985 garden for the iconic Dallas tower Fountain Place, which draws its name not from its rocket-ship shape but the watery garden Kiley designed at its base. ‘It’s riddled with his maniacal order, with the smell and feel of reorganized nature,’ the noted landscape architect Gary Hilderbrand writes in the exhibition’s accompanying text. ‘Big sums of bravado and conviction made Fountain Place happen.’”

Thanks to the confidence and passion of TCLF and their desire to honor this design icon, we can now all appreciate a few of Kiley’s amazing works that quite literally shape our country’s landscape. “Dan Kiley Landscapes” (a free exhibit) continues through Sept. 18 at Dallas Center for Architecture, 1909 Woodall Rodgers Freeway.

The exhibit moves to Louisiana State University’s Student Union Art Gallery in Baton Rouge from October 9-December 16, and continues to travel through 2017.

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