From his longtime home studio in Vermont, Dan Kiley could see low-slung mountains, rippling Lake Champlain and trees grouped thickly and randomly. But when the influential landscape architect went to work, he emulated not such natural vistas but the geometric layouts of both baroque and modernist France.
“The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley,” at the National Building Museum through May 18, celebrates the centenary of the designer’s 1912 birth; it also marks a decade since his 2004 death. The photographs in the exhibition showcase Kiley landscapes that abide, as well as ones that have been neglected or may be threatened.
The Boston-born Kiley served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and his assignments included designing the courtroom for the Nuremberg Trials. The most significant aspect of his time in Europe, however, was his exposure to the work of André le Nôtre, who designed the Gardens of Versailles for Louis XIV.
Le Nôtre’s formal style was a defining influence on Kiley and made the American a natural collaborator for architects who exemplified the rationalist, streamlined International Style. In his more than 900 designs, Kiley rarely arrayed water, grass and trees without using some sort of grid.
Dan Kiley, in an undated photograph, stands at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Behind him is a methodical arrangement of square pools, the centerpiece of his design to both celebrate and contrast the school’s flat, dry environment.
Kiley’s major surviving work in the Washington area is Benjamin Banneker Park at the south end of the L’Enfant Plaza promenade, a place that draws few promenaders. The fountain-centered space is considered endangered, as the whole I.M. Pei-designed complex is likely to be revamped. One gripe about Banneker Park is that it offers no access to the Southwest Waterfront below. In fact, a stairway was part of the original design, but it was never built.
One of Kiley’s most Gallic designs is in Delaware: the aptly named Patterns, the private estate of former governor and congressman Pierre “Pete” DuPont and his wife, Elise DuPont. The scheme, among Kiley’s last works, demonstrates his balance of the theoretical and the natural: a vegetable garden flanks the austere conduit that leads to the minimalist fountain.
Kiley often arranged trees geometrically to match a rectangular building. This view of the atrium of the Ford Foundation headquarters in Manhattan suggests a looser approach. But Kiley’s foliage is tidily contained by the structure, designed in 1963 by Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, who took over Eero Saarinen’s firm after his 1961 death.
Kiley worked frequently with architect Eero Saarinen, notably at Dulles Airport (where the landscape master’s work was later sacrificed to new and expanded buildings) and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis. Kiley’s design for the latter, shown here, features curving lines that are uncharacteristic of his work but that complement the shape of Saarinen’s arch.
Now called the Kiley Garden, this arrangement of circles and squares, grass and trees was designed to parallel the mathematical design of the nearby skyscraper, the tallest building in Tampa when completed in 1986. As this 2013 photo shows, the plaza was allowed to deteriorate, but it has been partially restored since 2010.
The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley
A photographic exhibition exploring the current condition of Kiley’s more than 1,000 projects.
Through May 18
National Building Museum
401 F St. NW, Washington, D.C.
a freelance writer.