Kiley – Landscape Legend

Kiley – Landscape Legend

Dan Kiley (1912-2004) is one of my landscape architect heroes. The clarity of his design approach and the bold execution of significant landscape projects over a sustained period is unparalleled. His legacy endures.

So when I chanced upon a new website about Kiley created by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) recently, I was reminded again why he is such a ‘landscape legend’.

All photographs above from The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley website.

The TCLF has, with the help of both commercial and educational sponsorship, established a survey of 28 of Kiley’s significant projects, all with new photography commissioned specifically for the online ‘exhibit’ (as they call it) and a touring exhibition during July and September 2014. There’s also a decent biography and a series of recollections by other landscape architects – including one of my other heroes, Peter Walker talking about the Miller Garden (1955):

I considered him my most important mentor… He introduced me to the work of Andre Le Nôtre. In my judgment he is the greatest landscape architect in the last half of the twentieth century. – Peter Walker

Miller Garden (1955) by Dan Kiley
One side of the allée of honey locusts – Miller Garden (1955)
Miller Garden (1955) by Dan Kiley
Multi-trunked tree grid with random pavers – Miller Garden (1955)

The website (and guide book) are part of the TCLF’s annual spotlight in their ‘Landslide’ series with a mission to “to draw immediate and lasting attention to threatened landscapes and unique features.”

The new TCLF website is undoubtedly the definitive online Kiley resource.


If you want to contribute to the TCLF’s programs and initiatives, head this way. It is a not for profit organisation so relies on support from the public to stay afloat.


Managing Fast Track Laboratory Design

Managing Fast Track Laboratory Design

What is “fast track” lab design?

“The term… promises efficacious and accelerated construction and we can all accept that time is money. But, is it reasonable to expect that fast track construction will always live up to these optimistic prospects?” – Arthur O’Leary FAIA (Fast Track Construction: Is It Too Good To Be True? Can It Really Deliver?)

Yep. Good question Arthur.

In my experience the answer is: sometimes. But to know how and to see some built examples, read on.

Fast track is construction industry-speak for a procurement method to deliver projects in the shortest possible timeframe. The methodology can be applied to all building typologies but has particular implications for lab buildings. You may know it as design and construct or D&C.

Essentially the technique – if you could call it that – is to overlap the design and construction phases of a project to reduce the overall time, and therefore cost, of a project. The other primary benefit to the client is that they can move in earlier. There are of course other benefits, such as reducing risk, but that is the subject for another day.

Also, the term ‘fast track lab design’ should not to be confused with ‘lean laboratories’, although the concept of seeking cost and time efficiencies is common to both.

The methodology originated with contractors constructing primarily commercial or spec office buildings, however more recently it is being applied to more complex building types. And laboratory buildings have not escaped untouched.


Traditional programmes are fairly linear in nature with minimal overlaps (number of months indicated at top):

Traditional lab building programme
A traditional linear lab building programme

The architect designs and documents first, then the contractor constructs. What isn’t shown above is the full length (in months) of the construction period as it is contingent on  project size and complexity. In recent laboratory projects I’ve led, the construction phase has varied between 12 months to 30 months.

In a fast track situation, the various programme ‘streams’ or phases are overlapped and assume concurrent work on different phases:

Fast track lab design programme (based on my recently completed projects)
A fast track lab design programme (based on my recently completed projects)

You will notice immediately that several phases relating to the procurement phases are brought forward in the process; early works, tendering and most importantly, construction. The degree of overlap is the primary challenge for an architect as design is an iterative process so the relative luxury of revisiting things later in the design phase is often not possible.

Considerations in fast track lab design

Honing in on the specific impacts of overlapping design and construction that apply to the laboratory building typology, here are my key considerations:

Complexity. Labs are highly technical complex spaces with both specific servicing and spatial requirements. With compressed fast track timeframes; details can be missed, thorough coordination of services may not be complete and clashes arise.

Structure. Structural considerations (esp. loading and vibration) are paramount as over designed structures will result in more costly construction (eg. more concrete) and potentially take longer to construct than a more appropriate structural solution.

Equipment. Establishing allowances for major equipment or large instruments such as NMR or MRI need to be made early as possible in the process. Determining any potential future installations will allow the spaces to be appropriately master planned.

NMR quenching

End users. Unknown or changing user groups to those may ultimately occupy the labs. Consequently, there is a risk of providing a entirely generic lab that doesn’t actually suit any occupant. Modulate the lab design to meet the requirements of the immediate user consultation process and seek any further client input if the ultimate users of the spaces are unknown.

Flexibility. Understand the subtle differences and implications of flexibility /adaptability / convertibility / expandability. It is critical that adaptability (short timeframe operational changes) and convertibility (medium timeframe conversion of lab spaces to different functions) are understood as they will have the largest impact on a fast track delivery.

Experience. Ensuring that the Managing Contractor, and especially, subcontractor have experience and expertise in delivering complex, highly serviced fast track projects is fundamental.

Early works. Understand the value of early works as it almost mandatory in fast track projects, however, also appreciate the serious implications of digging before everything is known and/or the design is complete.

Early works piling

Value management. Carefully monitor the outcomes of any value management (VM) or value engineering (VE) sessions as items examined are often broad ranging but lacking in detail. Longer term consequences or interrelationships are not always clearly understood at the time, especially in relation to labs due to the complex servicing.

Right-size services. Monitor the information gathering and user review processes for the over provision of services or indeed, the under-provision of services. Both can have a massive impact on cost, construction delays and client/user satisfaction.

A laboratory service wing with quick-coupling gas outlets, local exhaust and power

Prototyping. Although time is always pressing for fast track projects, don’t cut corners for labs. They allow the client, architect, and contractors to assess. Ensure that the purpose of the lab prototype is clearly understood by all. Mock-ups of partial lab bench/services spines may be an alternative if cost and time does not permit full prototyping.

BIM. A lot of hype about the advantages of an integrated 3D model but the reality on lab projects that is still an evolving element across the wider team. Data interchange between operating system platforms and CAD software is fraught with issues.

A cutaway BIM model of the Tyree Energy Technologies Building (FJMT)

Document control. The production and distribution of information (drawings, reports, schedules etc.) is an ongoing task. With trade packaged documentation and partial documentation sets, monitoring document versioning is critical. Leverage the use of project management systems (eg. Aconex).

Lead time. Identify as early as possible in the design process any long lead time specialist materials, finishes or fitments that need to be procured for the project.

People. A result of a compressed timeframe is continued pressure on the individual team members. This can be stressful and lead to simple errors or oversights by experienced people. Expect errors and omissions but mitigate them by maintaining a multi-level quality checking system (self-check, buddy check, senior architect verification) for all drawings. Also ensure that team members take leave at regular intervals but not all at the same time!

The need for genuine collaboration

Under a fast track programme, a genuinely collaborative design and construction process is essential.

Soccer Practice
(woodleywonderworks via Flickr)

Evident in the most successful fast track research buildings is a collective team effort between client, architect, engineers, and contractor all swimming in the same direction. Strategic objectives are aligned.

However, it is a requirement of fast track lab design rather then a serendipitous event. The main reason is time. There is simply no time to waste on conflicting objectives, petty politics or hidden agendas. You just have to manage the level and type of collaboration within the project circumstances or boundaries.

Based on my experience in delivering  projects within these parameters, some suggestions for facilitating collaboration in fast track projects include:

  • Implement a tripartite strategy for dealing with issues; proactive (avoiding issues), reactive (trouble shooting) and collaborative (resolving issues).
  • Undertake an upfront design framework; collaborate with services engineers on broad strategies very early in the process
  • Likewise, when the time comes undertake detailed collaboration workshops with sub-contractors (final design, supply, installation).
  • Provide the architect with open and direct access to the client regardless of the engagement method. The ability to present and discuss person to person is essential to avoid anything ‘lost in translation’.

Armed with these strategies, the next time you are faced with a seemingly impossible programme for a laboratory building it hopefully won’t be so daunting.

This is an adapted version of my presentation at Science Industry Australia’s Laboratory Design Conference held in November 2013. Hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, leave me a comment below or send a message.

What are some of the best buildings using COR-TEN steel?

My answer to the question on Quora:

On the assumption that ‘best’ infers design excellence, then I’d suggest some buildings featuring Corten by fellow Aussie architects – Wood Marsh and Nonda Katsalidis.

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (1998) by Wood Marsh


MONA Museum, Hobart (2011) by Fender Katsalidis

and a (relative) oldie but a goodie:

Beach House at St. Andrews (1992) by Nonda Katsalidis

View Answer on Quora

What is a typical work day for an architect like?

What is a typical work day for an architect like?

My answer to a question on Quora:

As a Principal of a firm of 80 architects undertaking medium-large projects I can give you a few perspectives based on my typical day. Apart from longish hours (architecture is still labour intensive… but that’s another answer for Quora) and an espresso or two, my day usually comprises of three key activities:

  • reading & writing (via email or project management software)
  • collaborating (talking with colleagues, meetings)
  • designing (sketches, making decisions, problem solving)

Some other days involve site inspections to a project under construction, inspections of prototypes, or inspections at manufacturing plants (precast concrete, curtain walls etc.). Depending on the project these inspections might even be overseas. In my case, that has meant travel around the country, to China and even the UK.

The nature of your activities really depends on your level of professional experience and the type of projects undertaken by the practice. However the basic elements are the same, the proportions of time just change. For example, a typical day of one of my recent graduate team members would probably look like this:

A lot less reading and writing as drawing/modelling on CAD typically fills most of their day.

Unlike the romantic vision of an architect sitting around all day and sketching in a Moleskine, the reality is markedly different… except perhaps for some of the ‘stararchitects’.

So, despite the fact that only about 5-10% of your time is actually spent designing, pretty much every other activity or decision contributes to realising a project in some way.

View Answer on Quora

Interstitial – between architecture and landscape

Interstitial – between architecture and landscape

The nexus between architecture and landscape – the interstitial space – is a fascinating place for a designer. It is the very edges of things; in nature, in objects and in buildings that are always the most interesting places to me. In the natural environment, it is that fuzzy boundary where the ocean meets the sand, the estuaries where freshwater meets saltwater or where the open forest turns to open grassland. In nature, edges are typically the most rich and fertile areas as resources are available from two different environments.

Above: Natural edges are rich with detail and stepping scale; Macro, Meso, Micro.

Similarly, edges in the built environment can offer a richness to the spaces adjacent by shaping the human experience through a variety of design ‘moves’ and/or architectural details such as a feathered edge, protection from the sun or a place to sit.

With this in mind, what I’d like to focus on is the interstitial both at the edges of buildings and site as well as the spaces immediately adjacent.

Typically, if not already briefed, at FJMT we tend to weave public space into our projects where possible to help ‘ground’ them to the site but also to connect them right into the context. I’m not talking in an esoteric way about repaving footpaths here (which we also do) but actually making new public spaces of some measurable benefit to the community or perhaps a campus.

Sometimes there’s a clear visual and physical delineation between the building and the related external space, in other projects they tend to overlap and combine, however most commonly we find they tend to inform each other.

Many years ago in a volume of the magazine Places – by the way, the archive is available to download – there was a great definition of these three approaches, or ‘modes’ as the author (Reuben Rainey) called them, in the relationship of architecture and landscape that captures a way of considering the interstitial space.

These modes are: Contrast, Merger and Reciprocity.

I’ll just briefly explain them and then you may want to consider these modes while viewing the selected buildings below. The first mode, Contrast, is fairly obvious and is considered where architecture is juxtaposed with the natural or cultural landscape. Acting as a counterpoint, the building exerts an visual and physical influence of the immediate context through a combination of scale, profile, colour and finishes. There is no transition into landscape at all so that the intrinsic qualities of each are accentuated via Contrast.

Above: Selected built precedents contrasting with the surrounding context.

The next mode, Merger, is the polar opposite and is where architecture blends or appears integrated with the natural or cultural landscape. Reuben notes that in this mode the building form may reflect the surround topography or even be placed underground to entirely merge with the landscape.

Above: Selected built precedents merging into the landscape.

Reciprocity is the third mode and most commonly found. Architecture influences, modifies and shapes the landscape and landscape influences, modifies and shapes the architecture. Each mutually benefits which tend to lead to richer, more complex buildings and spaces. The Reciprocity strategy may be as direct and formal as an extension of the building grid into the landscape or more subtle where the external space transitions into the building and interlocks the interior and exterior.

Above: Selected built precedents in which the architecture and/or landscape are interdependent.

Of course, in the complexities of design there are contradictions. These three approaches often appear together in one building to accentuate each element in response to formal considerations or perhaps react to functional or climatic conditions. From the examples illustrated above, it could be argued that Fallingwater simultaneously merges and contrasts with the site context. Nevertheless, these modes are readily identifiable if you pause and look closely.

This is a modified excerpt from my presentation at the Australian Institute of Architects Design Now mini-conference held in December 2011. Also, I’m planning a follow-up to this article with a focus on some of the projects I’m involved with at FJMT… ps. Happy New Year!

Further Reading