I have been furthering my researches into Modernism, and in particular its development and influence on landscape and garden design. The casual reader doesn't have to probe the key texts of the twentieth century too far to unearth the name of Daniel Urban Kiley, and I am increasingly intrigued by this unassuming giant of the American landscape tradition and his work, domestic, public and commercial. In February, in Chicago, I was unable to do more than peer at his prize-winning courtyard outside the Chicago Art Institute on Michigan Avenue, it being closed for the winter, so missed a chance to immerse myself in one of his singular creations.
What is so appealing? What, if anything, do these spaces mean?
As to the latter, American scholarship and its assiduous examination of the American experience has much to say on the matter - even though Kiley himself was a reluctant lecturer and avoided the pressure to intellectualise his work. Suffice to say that, in the early days, his landscapes used elements of design vocabulary in purely functional terms - the beauty followed from their fitness for purpose and the implied social good that they stood for. In his mature works, starting with the Miller Garden in Columbus, Indiana, the elements of his work began to describe a more aesthetic approach - still rigorously functional in true Modernist fashion, but equally classical in their use of trees and other plant material to define space on a controlled topography, often carefully modified to suit the design. It is no surprise to learn of Kiley's early exposure to the great formal gardens of Andre le Notre in France.
With regard to the former, the appeal has to lie in the management of space, by careful integration of masses, volumes, voids and edges: large scale works that carve up the sky with allees of trees, bosquets and orchards, that offer seclusion and drama while redefining the relationships within the site, that expose and screen the wider view in turn and which create truly special places, alive with varied light.
I feel the need to plant some trees...
Paul Ridley Design