December 19, 2008
Dan Kiley, Wild Man
Digging up anecdotes about the landscape architect and bon vivant
Calvin Tomkins’s 1995 profile of the landscape architect Dan Kiley is worth a read.
When a few of us from the magazine visited Kevin Roche one morning last September—his recollections made their way into our recent stories on Eero Saarinen and Associates and Roche’s Ford Foundation building—he regaled us with tales of “four-martini flights” with the hard-partying Saarinen crew, and other architectural shenanigans. He also told a memorable story about Dan Kiley, who did a number of landscape designs for Roche and his partner, John Dinkeloo (including the Ford Foundation plantings). For one such project, Roche had hoped to impress some clients by bringing them on a site visit with Kiley.
I did a big song and dance about Dan Kiley. So we arranged to meet him down at the site. Dan drove down from Vermont. He arrived in an old Army overcoat, with no socks. It looked like he was wearing his pajamas. And he had no shirt.
Apparently, this was hardly out of character. In his fine 1995 profile of Kiley for The New Yorker (subscription required), Calvin Tomkins portrays the 82-year-old landscape architect as something of a force of nature himself. “Gregarious, indefatigable, full of Irish high spirits and self-regard, fond of high-cholesterol foods, Martinis, skiing, golf, and the multiple pleasures available to man-in-nature, he seems to have had an exceptionally good time throughout his long life,” Tomkins writes. The story is stocked with good insider anecdotes–Kiley, for instance, initially thought that Saarinen’s design for the St. Louis Arch was “too static”–and would make an excellent addition to your stack of in-flight reading material this holiday-travel season.