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Plain Geometry
In Milwaukee, Dan Kiley's Cudahy Gardens provides a refined counterpoint to Santiago Calatrava's sculptural museum.
By David Dillon

The Milwaukee Art Museum has been such a popular success, drawing more than 500,000 visitors its first year and making numerous Top Ten design lists, that Dan Kiley's Cudahy Gardens has been virtually forgotten. That's regrettable because it is one of his best late works, a subtle commentary on Santiago Calatrava's exuberantly sculptural building as well as a sophisticated expression of his own minimalist aesthetic. With enviable economy of means, the gardens provide a forecourt for the museum, a pedestrian connection to Lake Michigan, and an extension of the downtown street grid—a trifecta of landscape challenges resolved by a single strong idea.

Courtesy James Brozek

Kiley and his senior designer Peter Meyer got involved in the $8.3 million project in 1997 when the museum was already in schematic design and the trustees belatedly realized that a parking lot with trees was not setting enough. Hiring an unknown landscape architect to shrub up Calatrava's building was not an option; museum and garden had to complement and reinforce each another, which meant that the designers had to be peers.

Kiley's name surfaced through David Kahler, whose firm had designed the 1970s addition to Eero Saarinen's War Memorial, which forms the northern edge of the site. Kahler knew Kiley's work intimately, including the lovely but unheralded chestnut bosque for the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Milwaukee.

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