maximum emotion from minimal form

Dan Kiley

Kicked out of Harvard in 1936 for refusing to produce assignments in the traditional beaux-arts style, Dan Kiley went on to become one of most well-known landscape architects in the world.  On Thursday, MetroHort organized a tour with SiteWorks Architects of the newly restored/renovated/reinvented Ford Foundation for Social Justice Atrium designed by Kiley.  The original Kiley design included 40 trees, 1,000 shrubs and over 22,000 vines and ground cover plants.  The atrium is 160 foot tall, the terracing is a 13 foot grade change from the 42 street level  to the entrance on 43 st. Kiley’s design pays homage to the New England forest. For 50 years Kiley lived and worked in Charlotte, VT.

The Ford Foundation Atrium was completed in 1967.  In 1997 it was named a New York City Landmark.

The original Dan Kiley Design

I went on the MetroHort tour to see and hear from the SiterWorks architects about the challenges, problems and maintenance practices of the newly renovated Atrium. SiteWorks hired Raymond Jungles, a landscape architect based in Florida to re-design the space. A choice I could not understand.

Original plan for the Atrium by Kiley

Vintage photo of the original Kiley design

“His intention here was to create a temperate woodland setting inside the building that would relate to Tudor Park and the trees outside,” Jungles continues. “If you look at the original photos of the place, he nailed it.” But then, trees died. Plants died and were replaced with “mall plants.” The grow lights burned out and were never replaced. Kiley brought eucalyptus from California that he thought would grow 80 feet tall, brushing the skylight of the atrium. That never happened”.

Atrium Plan given out by SiteWorks on the tour.

SiteWorks gave an excellent presentation.  The Atrium no longer contained any of original Kiley plantings.  The challenges were beyond numerous: steep slopes, environmental conditions, lack of light, changes in temperature,  landmarked pavings,  weight issues, logistical questions and pest control. Careful analysis of the these conditions, made Jungles the logical choice.  The Atrium was close to a tropical environment.

Hiring Jungles and approving the plan was only the beginning.  The species of trees were chosen, but acquiring those trees was the next complex problem.  The trees were grown in Florida in Missouri gravel.

Photo from SiteWorks – Missouri Gravel Method

The Missouri Gravel Bed (MGB) is a method of handling bare root nursery stock in which dormant plants are placed in the spring with their roots in an irrigated bed of gravel and held for up to a year before planting bare root (in full leaf) in the landscape.  The trees were in boxes for 9 months. SiteWorks landscape architect, Annette Wilkus explained the process of growing trees in missouri gravel and the onerous task of installation.  Two glass panels  were removed from the 42 st. entrance of the Atrium in order to get a crane into the atrium.  Like the 9/11 survivor tree, the nursery in Florida has been contracted to keep growing these variety of trees in order to insure that if replacements are needed they are readily available.


SiteWorks.  The Trees weighed between 1600 to 5,000 pounds.

This could become my longest blog.  The creation of this garden is a technical feat and an ongoing one.  Humidity is an issue.  The fact that the humidity is different during each season changes the needs of all the plants. The fact that the entrance on 43 st. admits cold air into the building during the winter is an issue.  The solution a heater above the entry way.  The fact that the extreme cold weather last winter threatened the plants, therefore SiteWorks temporarily installed huge heaters.  The issues are endless.
This is first of a three page document distributed by SiteWorks documenting the pests and applications to control a particular pest.

In terms of maintenance practices.  A person works 5 days a week, 8 hours a day watering the Atrium.  The thoughtful and enormous efforts by SiteWorks to create this garden was incredibly impressive.  Questions were answered.  I could not help myself.  I raised my hand.  “Recently the Ford Foundation changed their name from the Ford Foundation to the Ford Foundation for Social Justice.  It is well known that not only was the Atrium re-designed, but the entire building was renovated to reflect the mission of the organization.  Large spacious offices were re-configured to reflect a much more egalitarian approach to the division of labor within the organization.  How is this garden sustainable  How does it fit into the mission of the organization?”

The current pool The original Kiley pool (see photograph above) contained a potted plant in the middle. The current pool is full of coins.

I cannot say that this question was actually answered.  With a limitless budget, maybe throwing a coin into the pool will at the very least send some good vibes the garden’s way.

An Additional Note:
The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan  Kiely
Through September 1
Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History
One Park Street
Middlebury, Vermont 05753



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: