Dan Kiley Landscapes in Bartholomew County, Indiana and Planting Typologies at the Miller Garden and North Christian Church



University Park, PA, USA | Zhen Tong, Student ASLA | Graduate | Faculty Advisors: Ron Henderson, FASLA; Maria Debije Counts
The Pennsylvania State University


This project is a student exhibition exploring and expanding our understanding and appreciation for planting as learned through investigating Dan Kiley’s most influential projects in the second installation of this curated work, but also augmented by 2d and 3d mixed-media sculptures. The analytical components created specifically for this exhibition evolve to highlight the complexity, beauty and design opportunity in creating spaces through planting typologies using an unique approach to illustrative and physical modeling techniques with over 2,000 trees. Kiley’s work serves as the context and foundation for these studies. Planting typologies are disseminated through research and communication of work that builds off of archival collections of Kiley’s work including diagrams and physical models of phonological or morpohological nuances within tree species through canopy growth, seasonality, texture, caliper, and form among other topics. The project includes a six-week exhibition open to the public, an exhibition catalogue, and a public panel discussion.


Typological research investigations conducted in the spring of 2015 begins with the analysis of 21 of Dan Kiley’s projects from Bartholomew County, Indiana the communications of which ultimately addresses design process and translation from original blueprints to analog and digital drawings to analyze, explore and test planting design. AutoCAD created from a variety of archival information ultimately become 3d models that reflect the most accurate scaled drawings possible in an experiential form. Select tree species and typologies found within Kiley project sites are used as a means to contextualize typologies, which are then extracted out and highlighted through edited and simple refined black and white key diagrams to highlight these areas as formal spatial compositions of intentionality. A closer look is then taken to look into five typologies found within Kiley’s work including; one tree/row, two/tree allée, bosque, grid, quincunx, hedgerow and forest. The Kiley analysis work is used as a point of inspiring departure from which to study a landscape. It offers a context from which to look into the implications of species arrangements and juxtapositions of seasonality and form within a garden or larger space and a new way to learn, document, and evolve understandings and techniques for planting design and communication.

This project is engage students in landscape architecture and the public in the found materials of the archives such as aerial photography, Google Earth images, blue print drawing scans, sections, old plans, pencil sketches, and photographs, to actively engage with the research in a more multi-dimensional and multi-media type of way. With each project, a different set of found circumstances and materials exist, thereby posing different challenges for understanding the projects and analysis etc. These challenges are seen as opportunities for shaping and improving the understanding and illustration of the work that shows to highlight new creative techniques in both black and white, color, and in 3d, to see projects and typologies in new ways, in new scales and dimensions rather than solely as an exhibition of what exists today.

Site investigations and explorations are made on form, seasonality, growth, and time among other topics in plan, section, section elevation, and perspective for five planting typologies built in two-dimensional and three dimensional methods. The process of translating archival work of Kiley’s from the Columbus, Indiana Architectural Archives is integral to learning about his work and ultimately communicating it through new meaningful ways. For example, two large-scale CNC models of two of his projects are routed based on blueprints that are translated into AutoCAD and Rhino models to reveal accurate locations for tree planting, roads, and topography. Over 1,500 hand-twisted trees depict in a tangible way the architectural structure, dimensionality, and form of isolated tree species for these two models.

Findings are disseminated through a public installation of the six-week exhibition including five physical typology models in addition to the two large-scale site models mentioned above. Each typology physical model is roughly 24” x 24” and made of painted wood and black wire twisted trees. The size and format of the models allows enough room and a communication format to spatially exhibit and observe the formal configurations and canopies of the various tree species and typological investigations. Select species are investigated in physical form across the five typologies to enhance the importance of individual tree selection within typologies. As another form of design communication and enhancing the understanding of the typologies, over 30 individual drawing series were displayed including such explorations as canopy coverage and shade over time, seasonality and texture, growth over time, canopy competition, residual space analysis (the space between the tree planting and the ground plane), surface analysis, circulation as it results to planting sequence, perspectival view, fluctuating experiential trunk width, root growth over time, among others.

Careful attention to the articulation of space through the planting analysis reveals negative space, sunlight and shade, time of take, seasonality, etc. through careful attention to detail in line weight, line type, scale, thickness, texture through hatching and a high level of precision/accuracy. What emerges is the importance of planting typologies as a specific and relevant tool for landscape architects as well as the complexity and variation within them. Attention to detail and the formal juxtapositions of species creates a visually engaging display for students and the public alike.

Over 2,000 trees in total were twisted as part of the project that culminated in a formal gallery display including two large scale site models of the Miller Garden, the North Christian Church, each of the five selected typologies, over 20 of Dan Kiley’s projects, and over 30 illustrative series drawings done in black and white.

Overall, the project expands our visual and three-dimensional understanding of planting typologies through a new methodology of inquiry. The nature of the project engages students experientially in approaches to planting design through physical form of plant species, and careful consideration of factors that are constantly in flux through the lens of the influential Landscape Architect, Dan Kiley. This method could be used to analyze other significant and meaningful and successful landscapes to improve our cognitive understanding, comfortability, and rigor into understanding the importance of designed spaces through planting and makes otherwise experientially complex natural systems of organization and living material that is in constant flux, visually accessible and engaging to understand.

It is the goal of this project to serve as an inspiration to landscape architecture students, landscape architects, allied disciples in engaging complexities of trees in landscapes as significant agents of critical design practice and experience. The process taken to create this exhibition served as a learning tool for understanding these concepts, but the end products in 2d and 3d form are made intentionally visible so that others may learn from what they see. Through this approach to understanding planting design, new investigations can take place to see things in a new way that may enhance our understanding of successful and unsuccessful landscapes from which we currently may only be looking at what we see, but may in fact reveal more upon a closer look.

The feedback from visitors to the exhibition and roundtable revealed that the project raised awareness and excitement for learning about trees, how they shape space, and the overall experience of place. Projects such as this one can teach us about planting typologies, the importance of species selection, and planting design techniques for creating spaces, or living environments and the communication of these lessons learned may provide new ways of interpreting, analyzing and discovering exemplary historical works in the field. In addition, we can enhance our own understanding of, appreciation for and attention to the power of landscape architecture and in particular trees to open up possibilities and opportunities for others to also test new ideas for assessing, observing, analyzing, and ultimately making his or her own their own 2d and 3d projects.

“This substantiates the importance of how trees can shape a space and helps others understand why landscape is so important. It distilled Kiley’s design down to the essence. I love the pictures of the people at the exhibition; you can see the enthusiasm in their faces.”

- 2016 Awards Jury


Exhibition Co-Curated by:

  • Maria Debije Counts
  • Christopher Counts
  • Ron Henderson, FASLA


  • James Nickoll, Columbus, Indiana Architectural Archives


  • The Columbus, Indiana Architectural Archives
  • The Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Department of Landscape Architecture

Thanks to the Pennsylvania State University Department of Landscape Architecture Third Year Undergraduate Spring Planting Design Course 2015:

  • Erik Boyer
  • Benedetto Ceci
  • Paul Duffy
  • Ashley Eichlin
  • Michael Fargnoli
  • Matthew Gawarzewski
  • Adam Groshek
  • Jack Hall
  • Natalie Harper
  • Nicole Hill
  • Connor Kane
  • Grace Houpt
  • Kimberley Kassinger
  • Andrea McCullough
  • Maria Olsen
  • Jessica Owens
  • Marie Pasuello
  • Hailey Rohn
  • Jacqueline Schaeffer
  • Matthew Stowell
  • Hannah Thomas, Student ASLA
  • Jason Thompson
  • Rebecca Waravdekar
  • Jordan Weber
  • Zachary Wright
  • Bailun Zhang
  • Stephen Zimmerer

Thanks to the Pennsylvania State University Department of Landscape Architecture Second Year Graduate Spring Planting Design Course 2015:

  • Mengna Li, Student ASLA
  • Xinxin Li, Student ASLA
  • Chase Weaver
  • Na Yang
  • Jie Zhang, Student ASLA