Hired in 1958 to assist Rockefeller University’s Beaux-Arts campus transition from a private medical research institute to a public university, Dan Kiley addressed grade changes, constrained space, and the surrounding urban setting to create an academic oasis in the city.
The fourteen-acre campus, located in Manhattan along the East River opposite Roosevelt Island, is perched upon two broad terraces. The upper terrace adjacent to York Avenue is a leafy mall with Modernist buildings designed by architect Wallace K. Harrison, while the lower terrace includes the campus’s older neoclassical buildings. Kiley’s task was to revitalize the campus core, integrating the historic campus into his design. On the mall, he incorporated an existing row of London plane trees adjacent to a broad rectangular lawn. The lawn is edged by marble slab pathways and low, clipped flowering hedges, with smaller courtyards and pathways connecting to this central space. Granite retaining walls and linear shrub massings along the edge of the upper terrace accentuate the elevation change. At the northern end of the upper level, Kiley created a staircase comprised of marble slabs suspended from stainless steel cables that descends from the cantilevered terrace. This provides access and light to the lower level. In the Philosopher’s Garden, a sunken court on the lower terrace incorporates marble paving, Boston ivy, and European hornbeams around a calm pool with a single row of gently splashing jets. Though the hornbeams have been removed, the space continues to be a popular campus retreat and contemplative space.