Why do they call it that? Kiley Garden: Tampa's unnoticed masterpiece by Dan Kiley

9:40 AM, Dec 5, 2012   |    comments
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Kiley Garden is shown in this image from the City of Tampa.


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It's a Tampa park that's a world-class work of art, but you've probably never even noticed it exists.

Why do they call it Kiley Garden?

It's not a combo you hear too often: gardening and math.

But when you add the two together, you can get magic.

And there may be truly nowhere else in the world where landscaping and long division come together so perfectly as this often overlooked park in Downtown Tampa.

"The person who designed this landscape that we're standing in right now is Dan Kiley -- a nationally and internationally known landscape architect," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center.

"He was really an impressive person for us to get here for this project here in Tampa."

Kite-Powell says experts agree this 1988 project along the Hillsborough River across from the University of Tampa was one of Kiley's finest works -- a masterpiece.

"He worked very closely with the architect of what we call the 'beer can building,' Rivergate Tower," Kite-Powell said.

Following the influence of building architect Harry Wolf, landscape architect Dan Kiley "picked up a lot of the geometric patterns in the park based on the measurements of the building," Kite-Powell said.

Patterns of grids and circles pervade the park.

Precisely spaced trees and pavement squares of various sizes mix with rectangular sections of grass in images of the park taken just before its opening day and shared with 10 News by project manager Peter Lindsay Schaudt.

These patterns are not random.

"The building was built with this crazy mathematical formula, and that mathematical formula was translated out here. So the squares in the building match the squares in the park," Kite-Powell explained.

That mathematical formula is the Fibonacci Sequence. Fibonacci Numbers get their name from an Italian guy named -- not surprisingly -- Fibonacci. In case you're curious, you pronounce it "fib-uh-NOTCH-ee."

He wrote out a list where each new number on the list is the sum of the previous two added together. So 1+1 is 2... 1+2 makes 3... 2+3 makes 5... 3+5 is 8, and so on. And he discovered something.

That series of numbers shows up all over the place in nature. And in art, the numbers tend to help everything feel more fitting and more perfect.

But over time at the park, other numbers got in the way: rising maintenance costs and falling city budgets.

"This whole space here was full of crepe myrtle trees and palm trees, and all of the little canals that you see on the ground were water canals," Kite-Powell said.

"Those water features began leaking into the garage that's right below Kiley Garden, and so they had to turn the water off. The concrete began cracking. And this place became really desolate."

This garden -- renowned around the world by artists and experts -- crumbled while in our community's care.

"Another architect stepped up in 2010, and really -- along with the city's help and the city's money -- revamped as best they could this park," Kite-Powell said.

With that new, $4 million overhaul came a new name.

This space had been called NCNB Plaza for North Carolina National Bank, the original main tenants in the building next door.

Not only had NCNB moved out of the building, they had stopped existing altogether years ago. They became part of what's now Bank of America in 1991.

"It was renamed Kiley Garden in honor of Dan Kiley," Kite-Powell said.

Dan Kiley's vision is still not fulfilled here.

Trees he had planned for the park would cost thousands of dollars to install. So would the plumbing for his soothing fountains.

But even hot, dry, and unfinished -- there is something magical about this place where hard science and gentle nature form an almost perfect pattern.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

If you're a fan of our "Why do they call it that?" series, please mark your calendars!

Grayson Kamm will be talking about "Why do they call it that?" in a live presentation next month at the Tampa Bay History Center. He'll share some of the best stories he's covered in the series.

It's Thursday, January 10th at 6:30 p.m. at the Tampa Bay History Center, right next to the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Downtown Tampa.

It's free and open to everyone.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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