Columbus Park | The Most Beautiful Places in Chicago
Jens Jensen considered this his masterpiece….Jensen said that he felt he had more successfully interpreted and celebrated the Illinois natural landscape in [the] design for Columbus Park than any other project he had done.— Julia Bachrach, historian
Geoffrey Baer explores Jens Jensen’s masterpiece in Columbus Park.
A famous landscape architect’s masterpiece resides in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. Jens Jensen, who also redesigned elements of Humboldt, Garfield, and Douglass parks, designed Columbus Park between 1915 and 1920. One of the most striking features of the park is the natural area, complete with woodlands, a lagoon, and wetland habitat. Historian Julia Bachrach told Geoffrey Baer that Jensen wanted the park’s topography to mimic a glacial ridge among a natural prairie landscape. In Jensen’s vision, a gentle river was part of that landscape, so although the park’s water elements appear natural, they are in fact manmade. While this particular area of Illinois is famously flat, Jensen, a Danish immigrant, saw beauty in the prairie. “He really ended up creating a style that was meant to celebrate the prairie,” Bachrach said. “A lot of people liken [Jensen’s style] to what Frank Lloyd Wright did for architecture.” To emulate the prairie, Jensen’s design also emphasized the use of native plants long before it was a common practice. Columbus Park also has a “council ring,” which is a kind of circular stone bench designed for storytelling. “Jensen loved this idea of a circular stone bench because he felt that it was an opportunity to bring people together and that people could commune in nature,” Bachrach said.