Current Size: 100%

Dan Kiley Landscape at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

The site is threatened by a proposed Downtown Transportation Center. The hope is that by raising awareness of the significance of this project, the City will create a design that is minimally intrusive on Kiley’s landscape.

After a devastating fire in 1972 destroyed the historic St. Patrick’s Chapel and Rectory in downtown Burlington, the Catholic diocese chose to construct a new, modern cathedral on the same site to serve Vermont’s Roman Catholic population. After reviewing over fifty proposals for the design of the new cathedral, in 1974 the diocese selected the team of New York architect Edward Larrabee Barnes and Vermont landscape architect Dan Kiley to create an integrated program for the site in which the Cathedral and surrounding landscape interact to provide a quiet respite from the downtown area. Completed in 1977, Kiley’s landscape consists of one-hundred twenty-three locust trees laid in a grid following the angles of Barnes’ unique five-sided sanctuary.  Currently, the site is threatened by a proposed Downtown Transportation Center facility to be constructed along one of the streets bordering the Church property. The Downtown Transportation Center is in its initial design phase. It is hoped that by raising awareness early on of the significance of the Barnes and Kiley project, City officials and project planners will create a design that is minimally intrusive on Kiley’s landscape and does not detract from the ability of the public to enjoy and appreciate one of Burlington’s most unique and important cultural resources.

History

Dan Kiley (1912-2004) was arguably one of the most important landscape architects of the twentieth century. For over sixty years and in more than a thousand projects, he transformed the landscapes of private houses, public institutions, and vast urban spaces into magnificent places of natural beauty. Adhering rigorously to his lifelong tenet that the actions of humans are integral to the natural environment in which they live, he influenced generations of landscape architects and designers and heightened the public's awareness and appreciation of our man-made surroundings. In September 1997, Kiley was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon an artist in the United States, in recognition of his significant contributions to the design of major public spaces in this country. Kiley spent the majority of his career living and working in Charlotte, Vermont, just twenty miles south of Burlington.

Kiley and Edward Larrabee Barnes (1915-2004) collaborated on several projects throughout their long careers, including the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Dallas Museum of Art Sculpture Garden. For the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Barnes and Kiley were challenged to develop the one-square block site so as to integrate the Cathedral with downtown Burlington and at the same time insulate the Cathedral from the surrounding commotion of the city. This was accomplished by placing the Cathedral in the center of the property, surrounded on three sides by a grid of one-hundred twenty-three uniformly spaced locust trees. The Cathedral property is bordered by Pearl Street to the north, St. Paul Street to the east, Cherry Street to the south and Pine Street to the west. A towering steel campanile stands alone at the corner of St. Paul Street and Cherry Street, proclaiming the presence of the church while the Cathedral itself is screened by the surrounding trees. Straight concrete footpaths follow the lines of the trees and cut across the property, structuring the space and dividing the lawn into geometric shapes that reflect the Cathedral’s unique five-sided sanctuary. Kiley and Barnes’ close collaboration can be seen in the interaction between the Cathedral’s low, dark green glazed brick walls and soaring copper sanctuary roof and the dark trunks and lighter green foliage of the locust trees. Viewed together, the structure and landscape blend harmoniously to create a peaceful and inviting public space in the center of downtown Burlington.

The Threat

On June 26, 2006 the Burlington City Council unanimously approved studying the feasibility of locating a new Downtown Transportation Center on St. Paul Street, bordering the east side of the Kiley landscape. The Downtown Transportation Center will be used by city buses and complement an existing bus facility on Cherry Street. Both sides of St. Paul Street are being considered, although construction on the west side of the street, immediately adjacent to the Kiley landscape, would have an adverse effect by closing off access to and views of the Cathedral grounds. The landscape presently opens onto the surrounding streets on the north, east and south sides with the Cathedral extending from the center of the block to a parking lot on the west side of the property. The visual link through the trees to the surrounding cityscape is an important feature of Kiley’s design, as is the view of the Cathedral through the trees. The City is being encouraged to focus the design process on the east side of St. Paul Street, opposite the Kiley landscape, where new construction and bus traffic will have not have as great an impact on the peaceful Cathedral grounds.

The architectural importance of the Cathedral has been acknowledged by the Editorial Board of the Burlington Free Press, who wrote on July 12, 2006 that: “One of the neighbors [of the Downtown Transportation Center] would be the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, an architecturally significant building. [Public Works] said the intention would be to complement rather than compete with the cathedral. The city will have work to do on that front.” No mention was made, however, of the significance of the landscape surrounding the Cathedral building or that it is the work of Vermont’s own Dan Kiley. It is essential to raise awareness of the Kiley landscape itself to ensure that it is given proper consideration as the design for the Downtown Transportation Center takes shape.

How to Help

Contact to Burlington City Council and the Department of Public Works and encourage them to focus the design for the new Downtown Transportation Center on the east side of St. Paul Street, opposite the Kiley landscape.

The City Council can be contacted at:

Ian P. Carleton, City Council President  
Burlington City Hall
149 Church Street
Burlington, VT  05401
(802) 865-7000
 icarleton@yahoo.com

 
The Department of Public Works can be contacted at:

Dan Bradley, Transportation Planner
Department of Public Works
P.O. Box 849
Burlington, VT 05402-0849
(802) 865-5832
dbradley@ci.burlington.vt

 

About the Author: 
Devin Colman is the owner of Colman Consulting: Historic Preservation, Architectural History, Collections Care and Exhibition Design, Burlington, Vermont. For additional information, please contact the author, at devincolman@mac.com