At the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Mies Van Der Rohe in the mid-80s, there were tons of news stories, books, and conferences about the legacy of that great architect. But Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, head of the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), said nothing would have been done for famed Modern landscape architect Dan Kiley on his 100th, unless he and his organization had stepped up to honor him. At the opening of a new photography exhibition on the work of Kiley at the Boston Architectural College (BAC), Birnbaum said Kiley was only second to Frederick Law Olmsted in terms of the number of his landscapes that have been added to the national register of historic places.
In this exhibition, we see 27 of his 1,000 works of landscape architecture. The vast majority are in the U.S. but one remarkable landscape, L’Esplanade du Charles De Gaulle, leads up to La Defense in Paris. Newly-commissioned photographs were taken by some of the best landscape photographers, including Alan Ward, FASLA, who is also a partner at Sasaki Associates.
Birnbaum said it was important to document these landscapes so they don’t “die silent deaths.” He added that writing about Kiley is crucial to “making his legacy visible. It’s really a case of publish or perish.”
For Cornelia Oberlander, FASLA, the grand-dame of Canadian landscape architecture and a Kiley firm alumna, the Esplanade in Paris shows “how he brought the grandiose nature of structure into the landscape.” Pointing at a photo of the project, she said, “that’s Paris. It’s brilliant.”
She said Kiley was inspired by 17th century French landscape designer Andre Le Notre, who laid out gardens with structural forms like grids and allees. For her, Kiley’s legacy is taking that French structure and applying it to Modern landscapes everywhere. She said his genius was using a Modern approach to create a “classical feeling.”
Oberlander’s favorite Kiley landscape is the Miller Garden in Columbus, Indiana, which is viewed as his residential masterpiece. She said “this shows a new way of thinking, a new way of living in the garden.”
Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, principal of Reed Hilderbrand, believes the best word to characterize Kiley is “itinerant,” given his constant travels across the U.S. creating so many works of landscape. He said Kiley was “deeply committed to landscape architecture.”
While he said cultures change – so most landscapes will not even last a hundred years – many of Kiley’s landscapes should live on, at least in some form. One he highlighted was the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, home to the famous arch by Saarinen. “The origins of that design need to remain in some form.”
His favorite Kiley work is Fountain Place in Dallas, which he has to visit every time he goes to that city. “It’s otherworldy.”
And how does he sum up Kiley’s legacy? “Kiley’s work transcends his era.” His landscapes go beyond Modernism. “There is an essential quality.”
Image credits: (1) Patterns / Roger Foley, (2-3) L’Esplanade du Charles de Gaulle / David Bacher, (4) Miller Garden / Millicent Harvey, (5) Jefferson National Expansion Memorial / David Johnson, (6) Fountain Place / Alan Ward.