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Campus Gardens

The Council Ring in Landscape Design

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"A Place for Companionship in Nature" Jens Jensen

There are two Council Rings on campus; one is completed and lies just outside of Admissions and the Career Resource Center, the other a larger one under construction in 2001 between Group I and parking lots 1 & 2. Both of these are built by faculty and students of Landscape and Garden class from Department of Anthropology and Sociology and the Department of Biology.

The Council Ring provides a place for people to gather. Its like sitting at the hearth by a fire, except that the stars are above, and maybe in the evening the moon can be seen rising in the east, or the sun setting to the west. Where a fire pit can be incorporated, the experience of sitting around the Council Ring with friends may remind one of summer camps, our sitting around a camp fire. Our campus Council Rings are not campfire circles, but they do provide places for groups to gather and other events.

The Council Ring was the signature piece in many gardens designed by Jens Jensen, a mid-western garden designer in Chicago in the early to mid 1900's who collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright and began the Prairie School of landscape design. He developed the theory of the Council Ring for many public parks and for private estates. In his book The Clearing, Jensen wrote of the Council Ring,: "It is really democratic in its conception. Here one is no more than the other. Its makeup is one of strength and friendship. The friendly fire on the hearth in the center is more inviting."

He designed a series of eight council rings for the Lincoln Memorial Garden in Illinois, each connected by open meadows meandering through the forests. Jens Jensen popularized the Council Ring in the early 1900's as a gathering place for song, dance, story telling, or just enjoying a campfire and evening gathering. Campfire circles at our National Parks and summer camps are in the tradition of the Council Ring. The Council Ring near Admissions and Career Services provides a gathering place for parents and prospective students visiting campus for the first time, and the one that is being constructed between Group I and parking lots 1 & 2 will be used for teaching and other campus gatherings. This "Pine Grove Council Ring" will be completed by fall, 2001. Both of these are constructed of Pennsylvania stone and were built by students in Landscape and Garden class, by work study students working with Jim Sears, and recently during a "work retirement party" to honor Professor Gerry Gamburd, Department of Anthropology and Sociology.

If the Council Ring sounds like a Native American fire circle, it is because Jensen took his inspiration from the spiritual and ceremonial gathering places of the plains Indians. In the northeast, the Wampanoags still use such a device for three types of religious ceremonies: unity circles, spiritual gatherings and powwows. But a circular gathering place around an open fire goes back to the early tribal fires of many cultures. King Arthur's knights sat at a round table because of the democratic nature of the circle. The incorporation of these outdoor gathering and teaching spaces are in accord with Paul Rudolph's desire to move the educational experience out doors, out of the class room. Unlike his circular sitting areas in the quad however, we have either located our circular sitting areas near trees or we have planted gardens and trees around our Council Rings to make them more intimate and comfortable places of human scale.

 Last Updated On: 2/25/04

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