Kiley Garden

LOCATION:  Between Ashley Drive (500 North Ashley Dr.) and Hillsborough River, adjacent to Rivergate Tower, downtown Tampa


BUILT: 1988

SIZE:  3.5 acres

PHOTO CREDITS: The Cultural Landscape Foundation 


Opened in 1988, Nations Bank Plaza, commonly known as Kiley Garden is a masterwork of its creator, pioneering modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley.  Kiley is a highly regarded landscape architect and is only one of two landscape architects to ever receive the National Medal of Arts.

The rooftop garden along the Hillsborough River sits atop an underground parking garage adjacent to architect Harry C. Wolf’s iconic Rivergate Tower.  Kiley worked closely with Wolf to design the plaza using a precise system of mathematical proportions and shapes.  They used mathematical principal known as the “Golden Proportion”, which includes a logarithmic pattern known as the “Fibonacci” series, to decide everything about the layout. The tower’s height and radius, the size of the cubes, and the width of the park’s pathways all conform mathematically.  The resulting meticulous checkerboard of grass and concrete closely echoes the window patterns and proportions of the neighboring cylindrical tower.  Kiley’s intent for the design was “to release people into space, to provide an experience markedly different from the city surround”, a peaceful retreat in Tampa’s urban core. 

The plaza had become infamous due to its deteriorating condition and in 2006 the city cut down all of the crepe myrtles that once filled the park.  However, as a result of a recent $4.7 million renovation of the parking garage and garden by landscape architect, Ron Sill of RS&H in 2010, the plaza once again reflects Kiley’s original vision and sets the stage for further restoration.


About the Landscape Architect

Dan Kiley was born in Boston in 1912.  In 1932, he began a four-year apprenticeship with landscape architect Warren Manning, during which he learned the fundamentals of office practice and developed an interest in the role of plants in design, sparking his later creative and innovative use of plants in the landscape. 

In 1936, Kiley entered the design program at Harvard University, while continuing work with Manning. After two years at Harvard, Kiley left without graduating. He worked briefly for the National Park Service in Concord, New Hampshire, and later the United States Housing Authority, where he met architect Louis Kahn. On Kahn’s advice, Kiley left the Housing Authority in 1940 to become a licensed practitioner of architecture. 

From 1943 to 1945, Kiley served in the U.S. Army. At the end of World War II, Kiley designed the courtroom where the Nuremberg Trials were held. In Europe, he visited the work of André Le Nôtre at Sceaux Chantilly, Versailles, and Vaux-le-Vicomte, whose formality and geometric layout shaped his future Classical Modernist style.

Following the war, Kiley found himself one of the only modern landscape architects in the postwar building boom. In California, his friend Garrett Eckbo, Thomas Church and others were developing and practicing the modernist style. Kiley returned to his practice in New Hampshire, and later moved it to Vermont. In collaboration with modern architect Eero Saarinen, Kiley entered and won the competition to design for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a high-profile job that launched his career as a landscape architect.

Kiley’s first essentially modern landscape design was the Miller Garden in 1955, which is now owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art and known as the Miller House and Garden. Among his other masterworks are the Fountain Place in Dallas, Texas; the NationsBank Plaza in Tampa, Florida; the United States Air Force Academy; the Oakland Museum; Independence Mall in Philadelphia; and the Dallas Museum of Art. He completed more than 900 projects, which received countless awards. In 1997, he was presented with the National Medal of Arts. In his office, he hired and inspired designers such as Richard Haag, Peter Hornbeck, Peter Ker Walker, Peter Schaudt and Ian Tyndal.

The unique geometric layout of allees, bosques, water, paths, orchards, and lawns characterize Dan Kiley’s design. To Kiley, regular geometry lay at the heart of his design. Like his predecessors, Le Corbusier and Le Nôtre, Kiley believed that geometry was an inherent part of man. It was the structure man could use to gain comprehension and create stabilization of his surroundings. He also firmly believed that man was a part of nature, rather than being separate from it. Rather than copying and trying to imitate the curvilinear forms of nature he asserted mathematical order to the landscape. Kiley’s landscapes overstepped their boundaries rather than ending elements neatly on a suggested edge. He called this approach, slippage, or an extension beyond the implied boundary, creating ambiguous relationships in the landscape. Dan Kiley was a landscape architect made famous by his hundreds of distinguished works of landscape design, and inspires many students and professionals in the field of landscape architecture.  He passed away in 2004.

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