The Air Garden

United States Air Force Academy               1968 • Colorado Springs, CO • Office of Dan Kiley


Dan Kiley (Courtesy of Aaron Kiley)

 

Eero Saarinen asked Dan Kiley to act as a consultant on the design for the new campus for the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. Begun in 1954, the architecture firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) was selected to take the lead on the project with architect Walter Netsch at the helm. When Kiley joined the team, the firm had already created a preliminary master plan and layout for the site. According to Kiley “…it was no accident that my office was selected to consult…I was at that point establishing a reputation as a landscape architect who rejected traditional compositional methods, instead seeking organic order and balance in concert with architectural elements. We pushed to reveal a sense of movement on the land, as well as to connect outwards to the essence and spirit of the site.” [1]

The setting for the campus, 18,455 acres at the foot of the Rocky Mountains’ Rampart Range, provided a stunning backdrop to the team’s Modernist design. The site was nested within a natural landscape of valleys and plateaus vegetated with stands of evergreen, fir, juniper, spruce and pine stretching out from the mountain’s base. A ten-minute walking radius drove the campus layout, with classes, athletics, and meals on a north-south axis and special events and the chapel running east-west. Kiley’s plan centered on the core of the campus, the Academy’s twenty-seven-acre Cadet Area, which also acts as the public face of the campus. SOM’s master plan established the buildings and public spaces within the Cadet Area on a 28-foot grid. [2] In fact, Netsch used seven foot increments (or multiples thereof) to structure both the architecture and the campus plan, from window size to the scale of the plazas. Within the space, the architects used a series of retaining walls to create a constructed mesa adjacent to a small hillock. This natural backdrop was integral to the campus design. In Kiley’s words: “We all felt somehow that reference to this juxtaposition was an essential principle of the scheme. To me, the presence of that hill was so essential that I fought the Air Force Construction Agency who were attempting to shave it down to the regulation profile of 2.5:1.” [3]

The focal feature of Kiley’s design was a central parade ground containing a 700-foot-long gridded series of grass panels and fountains set along a north-south axis, which he called the “Air Garden.” Kiley intentionally offset his grid so that visitors to the garden would be unable to traverse the space in a straight line, counter to the structured rigidity of the cadet’s daily life. At one end of the Air Garden is a flagpole and at the other a memorial and u-shaped pool containing five water jets. Drawing the eye down the length of the landscape is a series of rectangular clipped hedges of American holly, and on either side of the watercourse, a grove of honey locusts is densely planted fourteen feet on center, four trees wide.

Throughout his design Kiley took into account the needs of the campus and the Cadets daily routine. According to Jory Johnson in the essay Man as Nature: “As Kiley explains, the Air Garden is not intended to have the same sense of dominion as Versailles or other grand French gardens: ‘We have to look at where we are today. I use geometry and Le Nôtre used geometry, but we have different understandings of the universe.’ Instead of extending the prominence of a particular building or institution – the gardens of Versailles radiate from the Chateau – the Air Garden extends the life of the cadets.” [4] Both metaphysically and physically this is the case with Kiley’s design, illustrated in the eighty-one-foot-wide promenade of white marble that surrounds the Air-Garden on four sides. The breadth of the promenade is specifically calculated in order to accommodate the strict formations of marching cadets. This rhythm is mirrored in the pathways formulated to accommodate a single cadet (four feet wide), or two (six feet wide).

Kiley’s landscape was already in decline by the late 1950s, before the plan’s implementation was even complete. When the last building was constructed, the Air Force handed over responsibility for management and maintenance to the Army Corp of Engineers. As a result, elements of Kiley’s design were not built, including the curvilinear landscape concept around the dormitories. Over time the built landscape further declined; dead trees were not replaced, the naturalistic ravine Kiley incorporated was removed, and perceived maintenance issues led to the Air Garden’s gridded fountains being filled with sod, dramatically altering the look, feel and intent of the design. Honey locusts have proven to be poor choices in some campus areas exposed to harsh temperatures and wind. In the 1980s Air Force Academy graduates began returning to the campus in leadership roles, and pride in the school’s heritage has led to a desire for building and landscape restoration. In the 1990s the Academy commissioned restoration plans along with strategies for dealing with development encroachment from nearby communities. As a first step the fountains at the north and south ends of the Air Garden were restored to their original design. Since then, work has been slow, with funding for the project made more difficult by 2013’s sequestration. But the Air Force Academy’s leadership is committed to the plan and intends to continue with restoration efforts as funding allows.

 

1 Kiley, Dan and Jane Amidon, Dan Kiley: The Complete Works of America’s Master Landscape Architect (Boston, New York, London: Little, Brown and Company, 1999), 28.

2 Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, United States Air Force Academy Base Comprehensive Plan: Cadet Area Master Plan (1985), 62. 


3 Kiley, Dan and Jane Amidon, Dan Kiley: The Complete Works of America’s Master Landscape Architect (Boston, New York, London: Little, Brown and Company, 1999), 29.


4 Johnson, Jory. “Man as Nature” In Modernism at Mid-Century: The Architecture of the United States Air Force Academy, ed. Robert Bruegmann (University of Chicago Press, 1995), 116.

– From The Cultural Landscape Foundation web site.


Scrapbook


 
 

1. Original sketch of proposed Academy design c.1955, showing gardens in the building quadrangles, but no Air Garden.

2. Model of revised Academy design c.1956, showing a preliminary Air Garden design and the "Cadet Gardens" in the quadrangles of Vandenberg Hall.

3. Architect's sketch of Vandenberg Hall, showing Dan Kiley's plans for "Cadet Gardens" in the dormitory quadrangles. (U.S.A.F. Photo via AP Wirephoto, March 10, 1956)

   
 

5. National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form designating the Air Force Academy a National Historic Landmark, describing the landscape architecture, specifically the Air Garden.

6. Landscape Architect Dan Kiley's sketch of the cadet area showing both the Air Garden and the "Cadet Gardens" in the Vandenberg Hall quadrangles.


The Air Garden Through the Ages


 

Air Garden Restoration          Class of '75 Reunion Gift News


March 2017

Classmates, at our 40th Reunion, the class formed and charged a Gift Committee to select suitable gifting to the Academy for our 45th Reunion.  Accordingly, classmates Fariss, Beesley, Pyatt, Hennek, and Smith-Harrison selected two gifts that were endorsed by our class officers: Endowing Contrails and Restoring the Air Gardens. We wanted gifts that would last for our lifetimes, are important to the Academy, and affects all past, present and future cadets. After considering over 20 candidate gifts, we unanimously selected these two iconic USAFA treasures.   

Contrails is still heavily used in fourth class training but the funding for publishing it has proven problematic for the Academy over the years. The class that gifts this publication not only helps the Academy but makes a lasting mark on every future cadet entering USAFA. The Class of 1975 will be recognized in each future edition with our class crest and an address to the new class on a cover page.

The Air Gardens are not what we remember. Over the years they have suffered from lack of attention, with reduced water features, deteriorated vegetation and broken marble strips. The desire is to restore the Air Gardens with the fountains and landscape as close to the original design as possible. The Class of 1975 will be recognized for their contribution in this project with a permanent oblast mounted plaque placed on the grounds of the Air Garden. 

Our "stretch goal" for this gift is $1,975,000 with the first $200K funding the Contrails endowment and the balance applied to the Restoration of the Air Gardens. We intend to measure the success of our campaign by class participation, not a dollar amount but we wanted to know if we were at least in the right ball park. So we validated the stretch goal by contacting 30 classmates to gauge class interest. Their response for these two iconic gifts was overwhelming as this small sampling have already made pledges totaling $800,000!

We will conduct a class wide funding campaign commencing April 2017. This will be done with a classmate in direct contact with each classmate. Both projects will be completed before the Class of 1975’s 45th Reunion in 2020 when we will be able to stroll through a restored Air Garden and be recognized together, as a class, in Falcon Stadium for providing one of the best gifts in Academy history!

Thanks for the opportunity to serve our class, respectfully yours,

The Class of 1975 Gift Committee: Larry Fariss / Mark Beesley / Rick Pyatt / Rod Hennek / Leon Smith-Harrison

December 2018

Classmates, as many of you know, at our 40th Reunion the Class formed and charged a Gift Committee to select suitable gifting to the Academy for our 45th Reunion.

Accordingly, classmates Fariss, Beesley, Pyatt, Hennek, and Smith-Harrison initiated a “Quiet Phase” of a campaign by selecting two gifts that were endorsed by our class officers: Endowing Contrails and Restoring the Air Gardens.  We wanted gifts that would last for our lifetimes, are important to the Academy, and affects all past, present and future cadets. After considering over 20 candidate gifts, we unanimously selected these two iconic USAFA treasures.  

Contrails is still heavily used in fourth class training but the funding for publishing it has proven problematic for the Academy over the years. The class that gifts this publication not only helps the Academy but makes a lasting mark on every future cadet entering USAFA. The Class of 1975 will be recognized in each future edition with our class crest and an address to the new class on a cover page (see attached Class Address document & FAQ document).

The Air Gardens are not what we remember. Over the years they have suffered from lack of attention, with reduced water features, deteriorated vegetation and broken marble strips. The desire is to restore the Air Gardens with the fountains and landscape as close to the original design as possible. The Class of 1975 will be recognized for their contribution in this project with a permanent oblast mounted plaque placed on the grounds of the Air Garden (see Air Gardens Design Renderings, Gallery (Below) & FAQ document). 

The Quiet Phase Committee selected an overall "stretch goal" of $1.975M, with the first $200K funding the Contrails endowment and the balance applied to the Restoration of the Air Gardens. We intended to measure the success of our campaign by class participation, not a dollar amount but we wanted to know if we were at least in the right ball park. So we validated the stretch goal by contacting 30 classmates to gauge class interest. Their response for these two iconic gifts was overwhelming as this small sampling have already made pledges totaling $800,000! Many thanks to them and the Quiet Phase Committee members who worked so diligently on our behalf to this point!

With that great start, we are now entering the “Public Phase” of the campaign with a new committee consisting of classmates Larry Fariss, Rick Pyatt (1st Group), Mark Volcheff (2nd Group), Bentley Rayburn (3rd Group)  and Duane Jones (4th Group), who will conduct a class wide funding campaign commencing January 2019. This will be done with a squadron mate in direct contact with each classmate (see FAQ document). We are seeking to complete our pledges to the Class Gift Campaign by 4 June 2019. Both of our selected projects will be completed before the Class of 1975’s 45th Reunion in 2020 when we will be able to open a current Contrails, stroll through a restored Air Garden and be recognized together, as a class, in Falcon Stadium for providing one of the best gifts in Academy history!

Thanks for the opportunity to serve our class, respectfully yours,

The Class of 1975 45th Reunion Gift Committee:
Quiet Phase:  Mark Beesley / Rick Pyatt / Larry Fariss / Rod Hennek / Leon Smith-Harrison
Public Phase:  Larry Fariss / Rick Pyatt / Mark Volcheff / Bentley Rayburn / Duane Jones

December 2019

Dear ’75 Classmates:

Season's greetings from Colorado! Here's an update of our 45th Reunion Class Gift Campaign in support of funding Contrails and Renovation of the Air Gardens. First and foremost, as campaign chair, I would like to offer a special thanks to all in our class who have already generously contributed! I am pleased to relay that, to date, 44.1% of our class has contributed and we have raised $1,170,584.24 of the class's stretch goal of $1,975,000. Of that total, $201,287.50 has been endowed for Contrails and $969,296.74 earmarked for the Air Gardens.

Here is an update for each project:

The Contrails Class Gift is completed, and we have presented the past four classes (2020-2023) with their personal copy that includes the following prominently displayed Class of 75 Commemorative page HERE. The Contrail funds are invested with the Endowment and structured to fund the publication of Contrails in perpetuity. We can be very proud of this accomplishment which is the envy of many classes who wanted to do the same. We beat 'em to the punch!

The Renovation of the Air Gardens is a much bigger task that continues to make steady progress. The Academy remains committed to completing this important and long overdue renovation. The contract responsibility and project oversight has recently shifted from the Academy to the Endowment. This is good news as the Endowment has successfully completed similar projects (Holaday Athletic Center and Falcon Stadium Locker Rooms) on behalf of the Academy with less overhead and red tape involved. The funding for the Air Gardens Renovation (approx. $6M), is provided by class gifts from '72, '75 and '76 and support from the Endowment. With strong ongoing class gift campaigns in place, the Endowment has confidently stepped out by hiring a project officer to oversee the renovation and re-letting the contract out for bid. The new timeline is for contract acceptance by the end of CY2019; the Air Garden pools and plumbing work to be completed by Fall 2020; and the landscaping to be installed in the Summer of 2021.

So what’s next? With both projects on track, and our 45th Reunion around the corner in 2020, let’s make a final push to reach our stretch goal of $1.975M! Here is a thought:

Over the course of the last 44 years, 75% of our class has donated back to the Academy!

I would like to challenge each squadron and group to close this campaign out with reaching that historic 75% participation rate. After all 75 is our number, and it only takes a few more of us per squadron to hit that figure and enable us to close this campaign out on a high note! For your reference I have included a chart at the end of this letter that shows how your squadron and group has fared to date in our current campaign. Group and Squadron Reps have led this effort from up front, and I am proud to single out a few for recognition. Squadrons currently leading the way with over 75% participation are CS15 @ 94.44% (Jim Eken), CS39 @ 78.95% (Walt Burns), and CS16 @ 77.78% (Buck Rogers). Close on their heels: CS02 @ 68.42% (Terry Young & Bob Akers), CS05 @ 66.67% (Bill Maiorano), and CS29 @ 62.50% (Tom Barbera). I also want to thank our committee members who have given so much of their time on our behalf the last four years: Rick Pyatt, Rod Hennek, Mark Volcheff, Bentley Rayburn, Duane Jones, Mark Beasley and Leon Smith-Harrison.

In closing, I hope you will each join in with a generous gift to help your squadron, and our class, achieve the stretch goal of $1.975M and the 75% participation rate! Many classmates have donated significantly with the top 5 squadrons collecting over $561K: CS08 @ $225.6K, CS24 @ $107.1K, CS16 @ 102.4K, CS15 @ $70.3K, and CS10 @ $56.1K. In this push to close out our campaign, if only 10 more classmates in each squadron pledges a gift of $1975, we will reach our $1.975M goal. You can do this by contacting your Group/Squadron Rep or the Endowment directly at 719-472-0300, ext. 200 or by giving online.

We can be very proud of our class’s ongoing role in raising critical funds for these two projects. At subsequent reunions, it will be most rewarding to watch fourth classmen use “our” Contrails to learn about Air Force heritage and then witness upper classmen proudly stroll through the completed Air Gardens!

Here is to wishing you all a happy holiday season and a very healthy and prosperous new year. I am eager to thank you all in person when we see one another at our 45th Reunion in 2020!

Sincerely,
Larry Fariss
Chairman, Class '75 Gift Committee


1. Public Announcement of the Class Gift.

3. Checkpoints Magazine featuring the Class Gift Air Garden Restoration Project.

5. Checkpoints Magazine featuring the restored Air Garden dedication.


Concept Sketches




Restoration Construction


– Photos Courtesy of the Air Force Academy Foundation


Air Garden Dedication


The restored Air Garden was dedicated on 23 October 2021, with Larry Fariss representing the Class of 1975 as the lead class on the project. Video below shows Larry's speech, the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and his post-ceremony interview. Video courtesy of the Association of Graduates.