Writing more than 20 years ago in The New Yorker, the critic Calvin Tomkins wondered why the landscape architect Dan Kiley, given the prominence and multitude of his commissions, was not better known outside his chosen profession.
It was, and remains, a justifiable question. Design professionals know Kiley, who died in 2004, as the figure who effectively introduced the language of midcentury modernism into the American landscape. Working across scales for corporate, domestic and public clients, his designs brought a sense of clarity and order to nature without forfeiting their humanity.
In an effort to rectify this gap in the public consciousness, the Dallas Center for Architecture has mounted what curator Charles A. Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Foundation describes as “an introduction to Kiley’s work.” It is, if just barely. Some 27 projects are presented, each by a single large photograph with a (too-small) plan drawing and a quote of varying utility by a figure associated either with the work or with Kiley, that relationship left unexplained.
A comprehensive Kiley retrospective would indeed be a monumental task; he was responsible for more than 1,000 projects, his influence shaping countless others.
Among his most important works are the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, the Ford Foundation in New York and the Miller House and Garden in Columbus, Ind. Those three projects suggest the diversity of his work, the first being a major public park, the second a groundbreaking introduction of nature inside a corporate office building, and the third a landmark residential project, undertaken with Eero Saarinen, a frequent collaborator. […]