As Modernism was taking off in California, there were very few modern designers on the East Coast. Modern landscape architect Dan Kiley established his practice in Franconia, New Hampshire after the WWII. While in Europe, Kiley took note of the spatial elements in the geometric gardens and found similarities with the lines, planes and space of Modern architecture.
Landscape to Modern Courtroom Design
Working without pay the first year of a four-year apprenticeship, Kiley picked up fundamentals from Landscape Architect Warren H. Manning. As a nature lover, he enjoyed outdoor assignments and the creative freedom to choose plants and materials. Kiley also attended Harvard University’s landscape architectural program. Without graduating, he left Harvard to work with the National Park Service in Concord. After marrying Anne Lathrop Sturges and opening his own practice in 1942, Kiley spent some time in the US Army. As fellow architect Eero Saarinen left the position, Kiley was promoted to director of design staff. In that role, he was tasked with laying out the courtroom for the Nuremberg trials.
Dan Kiley’s Career Launching Design
As one of the few modern architects on the East Coast, Kiley set his sights on a much larger project. In 1947, he and fellow architect Eero Saarinen won a contest to design Gateway Arch Park (Jefferson Expansion Memorial). Originally imagining a dense forest for the grounds, he decided instead to selectively plant trees around curving reflection ponds. The project sparked interest in his practice, and he spent the next 20 years dreaming up iconic works.
Modern Landscape Design
While the planting considerations came first, the Modernism Kiley explored at Harvard and later in California also shaped his designs. A trip to the European countryside and the French gardens of Le Norte just after the war inspired selective planting in grids and lines. As his experience grew, Kiley took on several other government projects like the Constitution Gardens in Washington DC and the Independence Mall in Philadelphia. Some projects added structure to a landscape to help comprehend the rolling hills. Others mimicked the curves in nature, overstepping boundaries to create ambiguous relationships.
Dan Kiley’s Legacy
Dan Kiley lived from 1912 to the age of 91 in 2004. In 1997, he received the highest artistic award given by the US government, the National Medal of Arts. Kiley received several other awards, as well as an endowed landscape architecture fellowship in his name at Harvard. His projects are featured in traveling exhibitions and often maintained by those that appreciate their significance. In addition to the intimate enclosures he created with dense planting, Kiley’s projects also provided beautiful sprawling expanses. “The legacy of Dan Kiley is that his work demonstrates how place informs life and how in turn life gives meaning and value to place. That he has done with art, grace and good humor to the lasting benefit of all.” Peter Kerr Walker, 2013
Learn more about modern landscape design with the Ginkgo Leaf Studio: What makes Landscape MCM?
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