Dan Kiley was one of the most important and influential landscape architects of the 20th century and the designer behind more than 1000 projects. Yet today, he is not as well known as some of this counterparts. This is not entirely surprising as architects tend to get more attention than landscape architects (only Frederick L. Olmsted has been honored with a postage stamp, yet fifteen architects have received the honor). Aside from Dan Kiley Landscapes – a Poetry of Space, Kiley has received little recognition in today’s industry.
Born in Boston, Kiley went on to study architecture at Harvard. He left after two years and with an apprenticeship with Warren Manning under his belt, he began working at the National Park Service in Concord, NH and later for the US Housing Authority. Friend Louis Kahn encouraged him to leave the Housing Authority and become a licensed architect, which Kiley did in 1940. He served in the war for two years, during which he designed the courtroom where the Nuremberg Trials took place. Upon returning from Europe, Kiley found himself to be one of the few modernist landscape architects during the post war building boom. He then relocated his NH practice to Vermont. Around this time he won the competition to design the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial with modern architect Eero Saarinen. This project catapulted his career.
Other notable works include are the Miller Garden in Indianapolis, the Fountain Place in Dallas, the Oakland Museum, and Independence Mall in Philadelphia. In 1997 he was presented with the National Medal of Arts after completing more than 900 notable projects. He fostered designers like Richard Haag, Peter Hornbeck, Peter Schaudt, and Ian Tyndal in his office. Geometry was at the heart of his designs, feeling strongly that it was an inherent part of man. He believed man was a part of nature so instead of trying to mimic nature, he asserted mathematical order to the landscape. His designs overstepped their boundaries in an approach he called, “slippage”, or an extension beyond an implied boundary. Kiley’s design vocabulary was greatly influence by Andre Le Notre, the 17th century landscape architect to King Louis XIV.
I’m posting about Dan Kiley on the blog not only because my husband is a landscape architect (and an avid fan of Kiley’s work), but because Kiley made Charlotte, VT his home. It was also the location of his studio from where he made many of his influential designs. From out his windows he could watch the ripples of Lake Champlain and gaze at the green mountains. What better state to inspire his beautiful landscapes. He was a quirky individual and in his later years was known to have wild hair, his pants hiked up around his waist, and spewing out ideas and opinions on design and nature. Fellow landscape architect Laurie Olin once fondly observed that, “Dan’s thoughts are like rabbits – they just keep leaping out.”
The Cultural Landscape Foundation currently has a traveling photographic exhibition of Dan Kiley’s work, The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley. The exhibition just opened in Pittsburgh this week and will be traveling to locations around the country till at least 2017.