Hidden in Plain Sight: Kiley’s Sarah Scaife Gallery Landscape


Mary Barensfeld, AIA, ASLA


Owner and Principal, Mary Barensfeld Architecture


Regional Spotlight, Pittsburgh
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Pittsburgh's Modern Milieu Part Three
Hidden in Plain Sight: Kiley’s Sarah Scaife Gallery Landscape

Dan Kiley’s exceptional landscape for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Museum of Art’s Sarah Scaife Gallery is compromised but not forgotten. The city’s design and preservation community, and the leadership of the museum, have within their grasp an opportunity to revitalize Kiley’s Scaife Gallery landscape and lead by example in the ongoing fight to preserve Modern landscape architecture built in the period of “one great surge of collective energies—the modern movement, an upheaval of traditional values, beliefs and artistic forms”. (1)

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has the good fortune to harbor two projects by the legendary Modernist landscape architect, Daniel Urban Kiley (1912-2004).  His landscape anchors the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Sarah Scaife Gallery addition (1974) in the Oakland neighborhood, and his Agnes R. Katz Plaza (1998) urban square design occupies an important site in the city’s downtown cultural district.  Built twenty-four years apart, these designs showcase one semi-private and one public landscape, each displaying different formal solutions yet both utilizing the strong Euclidian geometries, articulated plantings, and interwoven spaces that Kiley is known for. 

Sarah Scaife Gallery at the CMoA  

Edward Larrabee Barnes, a repeat Kiley collaborator, designed the Sarah Scaife Gallery addition in 1974.  The gallery, an effort spearheaded by then-director Leon Arkus, was a gift to the museum from the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Scaife family. Barnes enlisted Dan Kiley to execute the project’s landscapes. The Sarah Scaife Gallery, as a large-scale art museum project, successfully joins the existing 1895 Longfellow, Alden and Harlow building, with the needs of a museum intent on expanding its collection. Barnes created a structure similar in mass and scale to the original CMoA building but with its own stylistic identity. The project extends the existing sandstone Beaux-Arts gallery east with a minimalist Norwegian Larvikite monzonite stone-clad housing. The addition required bold, confident landscape moves to provide counter-punching balance. Kiley’s holistic landscape design provides the necessary transition from Barnes’ strong Modernist boxes to the brick row house scale of the neighboring Oakland shopping streets and pedestrian approach off Forbes Avenue. The playful dancing of water feature jets at the entrance along Forbes Avenue draws visitors down the well-proportioned, easy-going steps and into the addition’s inset glass doors. Amazingly, Kiley’s entrance plaza graciously accepted Richard Serra’s COR-TEN steel vertical behemoth, Carnegie, winner of first prize in the 1985 Carnegie International, as if the sculpture had been planned for it from the start. 

Counterposed against the long rectangular horizontality of Barnes’ and Kiley’s entrance sequence, the rear-facing central sculpture court provides a compact nucleus around which to organize a scheme. The remarkable sculpture court’s triangulated, ascending terraces, with a nine-tree grid, is an intuitive masterpiece of dynamic spatial movement, of nature as art, and an inspired display of two designers obliterating the demarcations of architecture and landscape. Approaching the museum from the southern parking area, one’s gaze is directed under Barnes’ oversized entrance portal to Kiley’s sculpture court. As the gallery form passes overhead, Kiley’s angled court stairs glide upwards as triangular cuts in plan. Honey locust “sculptures” beckon one towards the entrance. Barnes’ building has moments of spatial extension, as is the case with the court’s massive entrance portal: this architectural move provides necessary enclosure to the courtyard.

“I like the open movement and a change and continuity in some mystic impulse. The genetic catching of infinity is what Einstein is talking about, and it’s the universe itself, which is expanding and contracting, it is always going.”
-Dan Kiley, 1982 (2)

In the court plan and section, Kiley transects the orthogonal space into wedges, each with its own light quality, proximity to walls, distinctive tree sculpture and capacity to site various pieces of art.  The diagonal stairs overlay the site with an elevation-modulating fabricated landscape of angular topography. Kiley’s intimate court is bounded by two architectural languages; Modernist granite/glass meets articulated Classical style. The triangular platforms present both with equal weight, as a total geometric solution offering the potential of cosmic spatial continuity. Sol LeWitt astutely added to the conversation with a multi-colored mural for the grand interior gallery staircase (Wall Drawing 450, Wall Drawing 493,1986). As the exterior terraces float upwards towards the building, guiding visitors and views toward the museum, the interior staircase, marked by LeWitt’s colorful wall work, continues the ascension into the galleries. 

The spatial and visual continuity between Kiley’s landscapes and Barnes’ galleries further reinforces this project as an invaluable design marker in Kiley’s Modernist lexicon. As is often the case with Kiley projects, the Carnegie’s Scaife challenges the notion that landscapes follow building form: in this project, the landscapes dictate some of the building’s moves. Kiley himself noted this interplay, stating “This fine building was designed by Edward L. Barnes. As in many projects Ed and I have worked closely together in a most pleasant collaboration.” (3) This is evident throughout and best exemplified in the court’s detailing, as the two designers utilize several design strategies to blur interior and exterior space.

Kiley took care to grid the court’s triangular paving in a pattern harmonious with Barnes’ rhythmic panelization strategy.  Likewise, Barnes’ glass curtain wall systems, complete with custom steel patch fittings, are broken into orthogonal grids to match the recurring granite panels of the addition’s walls, floors and exterior façade; Kiley breaks his paving into similar geometric increments. The paving units get smaller as they approach their triangular tips. Barnes’ glass panels start out largest at the top and bottom of the wall, and change almost imperceptibly, to align with the granite cladding. Similar to later floor plans of Frank Lloyd Wright, with their intricately unfolding multi-scaled iterations of triangular building lines and units, Kiley and Barnes are playing a game of universal geometric order. When one serves, the other returns. Barnes continues to tip his hat to Kiley’s formal abilities with a language of architectural detail. The perpendicular glass support fins of the court’s glass curtain walls attach by way of minimal steel connectors, allowing the glass sheets to run into the ground plane uninterrupted by metal detailing or visually obtrusive material choice. Kiley continues these façade “unit” lines through the terraces as control joints and places trees at their intersection, further emphasizing the extension of the building grid into the landscape. Vector intersections are emphasized via exclamation point trees. In addition, landscape stairs become building stairs as they fly through and beyond the glass walls.

Today, the courtyard is in a state of disrepair: the triangulated, exposed aggregate concrete paving is buckling, the trapezoidal granite steps need to be re-laid, and in some cases the granite veneer slabs are becoming delaminated at corner conditions, especially at the air grilles on the interior “step-downs” of Barnes’ curtain wall. Despite the court’s disheveled material appearance, in autumn, the golden Honey locust leaves harmoniously jive with the rust-colored vertical mineral carpet marking the location of Kiley’s central waterwall feature. Original shallow planter “dishes,” some seven feet in diameter, offer pops of perennial color. Guests luxuriate in the sheltered seating areas of the terraces.  

Barnes uses simple geometric plan and surface cuts to add façade complexity and tie the gallery back to the heavily detailed Beaux-Arts building. The building’s cladding is deceptively simple. Barnes combines multiple sizes of rectangular granite veneer to ensure a geometrically aligned composition. He adds a stepped, articulated treatment to all corners. A particularly nice example can be found on the angled corners of the north facing saw-tooth galleries. Kiley is similarly thorough with his landscape grids. The court trees stand as nine symmetrical points. The original planting plan showcased tightly organized grids (now gone): yews in a three-foot diagrid surrounding the building and groundcover and bulbs at an eight to twelve inch on center spacing throughout (Periwinkle, Rockspray Cotoneaster, Wintercreeper, Crocus, Squill). Originally, a diamond-shaped pad of brilliant purple Vinca Minor sat at the base of each tree surrounding the museum. Kiley and Barnes ply their grid-craft with detail and mutual respect.

As mentioned, in addition to the masterful Forbes Avenue entrance sequence and intimate sculpture court, Dan Kiley developed the planting schemes surrounding the gallery addition. This originally included a blanket of dark green wrapping all sides of the building. Dense Japanese yews, punctuated by flowering Autumn Higan cherry trees, showed Kiley’s ability to compress and release space along the parking area. The thick yews played off the delicate hanging cherry blossoms and allowed a thin line of sight to penetrate their mass, focusing sightlines by a careful pruning adjustment of the height and density of hedge and tree canopy. The planting strategy continued along the east façade of the building and completely around the front North façade of the gallery. Maples hugged the recessed building angles as yews continued over surfaces. Currently, the red maple grove flanking the loading dock is struggling, hotly pursued by the new naturalistic plantings around the corner, and the yews hang on by a thread.    

Kiley’s plant selections did not stop at the perimeter of the building but continued down the hill, with less formalism, alongside the various parking areas. Fortunately, even with the addition of the parking garage at the base of the hill, the original linden, red maple, and red oak trees still line the parking surfaces, creating a surprisingly dense woodland area. Kiley’s hillside plantings of trees, Cockspur thorn, Japanese barberry, wintercreeper and yews have grown, forty-six years later, into a wild site envelope, wrapping the museum complex in a welcome embrace of plant material, dauntingly impervious to change, for now. Site-wide, Kiley’s planting areas have been eroded, over the years, via replacement with new planting schemes and a lack of maintenance—the details of which, for brevity’s sake, we will not go into here.

Ripe for restoration and preservation, the Sarah Scaife Gallery landscape is an at-risk cultural asset of the city of Pittsburgh. The Carnegie Museum of Art possesses a designed site, valuable not only as a piece of Pittsburgh’s local history and heritage but also as a marker in our national landscape and architecture lexicon. Seemingly critical of the lack of attention given to keeping an original Modernist landscape period piece, I write these words as a rallying cry and act of love. I respect and admire the visionary leadership and patrons who have shepherded the museum to date. As an art museum and custodian of the arts, the CMoA is well positioned to save and steward their Kiley & Barnes jewel. For the architecture and landscape-oriented, the slow demise of a work by an established, culturally celebrated designer such as Dan Kiley is akin to the defacement of a valuable painting by a great Renaissance master, in full public view. 

An exhibit on Barnes’ and Kiley’s collaborative Sarah Scaife Gallery project could be showcased in a Heinz Architectural Center exhibit to cultivate local pride and interest in the landscape and building. There is no better way to understand a building and site than to view the original drawings while standing in the actual building/landscape. Original drawing sets could be printed and handed out as museum goers explore architectural and landscape details.

It is my hope that even the possible challenges of renovating hardscape areas for ADA accessibility does not dissuade the museum and other members of the design community from working through the funding and focus needed for the landscape’s upkeep. The difficulties of maintaining the evolving and growing/dying life cycle of twentieth-century landscape sites are well-known but not impossible to surmount. A plan for responsible stewardship of both Barnes’ building and Kiley’s landscape is needed, through attentive research and appreciation of the original design. The Scaife Gallery addition and landscape are worthy pieces of art and design in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s crown, and as such should be restored and maintained in their original states.   


  1. Birnbaum, Charles A., Jane Brown Gillette & Nancy Slade, editors. “Preserving Modern Landscape Architecture II: Making Postwar Landscapes Visible”.  Spacemaker Press, LLC, 2004, 9, quotation from Walker, Peter, Melanie Simo. The Search for Modernism in the American Landscape (1994).
  2. Rainey, Reuben M., Marc Treib, editors.  “Dan Kiley: The Poetry of Space”.  William Stout Publishers, 2009, 44.  Quotation from Dan Kiley during panel discussion at UVA’s first annual landscape architecture symposium, The Work of Dan Kiley: A Dialogue on Design Theory.
  3. “Landscape Design: Works of Dan Kiley”.  Process Architecture.  1982 Oct. No 33, p61.

About the Author

Mary Barensfeld, AIA ASLA, is an architect and landscape architect with a passion for Modernist landscapes and architecture.  Her award-winning and internationally published design firm, started in 2013, has landscape and architecture work built in both California and Pennsylvania. Her work synthesizes disciplines as she seeks to blur the lines between architecture, landscape architecture, art and structure. 


In Between Rivers: Pittsburgh's Modern Milieu is part of the Docomomo US Regional Spotlight on Modernism Series, which was launched to help you explore modern places throughout the country without leaving your home. Previous spotlights include Chicago, MississippiMidland, MichiganHoustonLas VegasColorado, and Kansas. Have a region you'd like to see highlighted? Submit an article.

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Pittsburgh's Modern Milieu Part Four
Imani’s Indomitable Home: A Meditation on Modern Architectural Design