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A Sense of Place: Web Event 2

Smacholdt's picture


After my cousin’s college graduation I asked her, out of curiosity, when her school was founded and by whom. She did not have the answers to these questions, let alone more specific answers about the geography of her campus, or the architecture of her school. While I can’t tell you who built all of the buildings on Bryn Mawr College’s campus, with each passing year I become more and more familiar with Bryn Mawr College as a community, as a place on a map, and as an interconnected ecosystem. The longer I attend Bryn Mawr the more adamant I become in the value of really knowing the place where I live and work. This gives me a feeling of centeredness, and a knowledge of my surroundings that is intellectually empowering. I think that to find the center of a place you have to start by exploring and learning about all of it. You must develop an ecological appreciation for it. You need to start from the center and move outwards. Moving in this way I have been able to expand my first web event (/exchange/turning-circles), in order to make it more expensive and representative of Bryn Mawr’s campus. I have tried to familiarize myself with information about parts of campus through the internet, my own experiences, and by taking to college staff members. Here is what I discovered.

The Land

The land on which Bryn Mawr College sits was home to the nomadic Lenni Lenape Indians. They left buried arrowheads all over the area, most of which were collected by Main Liners a hundreds years ago. In the 1600’s the Main Line area was settled by Welsh Quakers who bought the land from William Penn for ten cents an acre. In 1704 Welsh farmer Rowland Ellis named his farm Bryn Mawr (in 1719 it was renamed Harriton.) The burial ground for the Harriton family currently resides in “Morris Woods” behind English House at Bryn Mawr College. This graveyard is a five minute walk behind English house. Plants now cover many of the stone tombstones, but the stones are still an important cultural resource, because they bear the names of family members buried there.

Erdman and Surrounding Area

Keeping with the belief that you have to know your surroundings, I paid special attention to Erdman dorm and dining hall because this is where I live, and thus spend a large amount of my time at school. A brief online summary told me that Erdman was designed in a modern style by Louis I. Kahn and completed in 1965. Kahn is quoted as saying, “Nature does not make Art. She works by circumstance and law. Only man makes Art. Because man chooses. He invents. He can make the doors smaller than people and skies black in the daytime if he wants to. He assembles. He can bring together the mountain, the serpent and the child” (Erdman Hall Dormitories.) This is interesting because he seems to feel that art is an inherently human thing, and that nature is something that can be controlled. I wonder how Kahn would feel about the “nature art” of Andy Goldsworthy (/exchange/leave-no-trace.) Additionally, would this quote still work in the same way if we were to change all of the “he’s” to “she’s” and the phrase “Only man makes Art” to “Only woman makes Art?” I don’t think that this would work in an ecofeminist way. Kahn also says, “Space is architectural when the evidence of how it is made is seen and comprehended” (Erdman Hall Dormitories.) I don’t necessarily agree with this statement, but I can see where he is coming from. In an eco-view, we can see space as a natural occurrence in nature and something that nature automatically fixes. Think, for example, about fault lines that form crevices in the earth. Organic material always slips in to fill spaces. The filling of spaces is a natural phenomenon, while emptiness is not.  Kahn also said that, “A dormitory should not express a nostalgia for home, it is not a permanent place, but an interim place” (MIMOA.) This can also be applied to our study of the environment because, since natural (and man-made) environments are always moving and changing, we should not fear change but accept it. In this case, this change is reflected in a structure that houses many students at Bryn Mawr.

Another interesting aspect of Erdman’s setup is the fact that it was built directly on top of a marshland. There is still a small marshland there including cattails and a small stream. Ed Harmon, director of Grounds at Bryn Mawr mentioned in an interview that this small marshland is something that buildings and ground have to contend with in general campus maintenance. An interesting area of further research would be to learn how the Grounds Committee balances human habitation on campus (i.e. Erdman dorm) with the fact that it sits on top of a wet, swampy piece of land. How do they keep the basement of the dining hall from flooding?

Rhodes Pond

Rhodes Pond is a fixture on Bryn Mawr’s campus, but it has not always looked as it looks today. The pond was created in 2001 from the creek that runs from the Shipley School through Bryn Mawr’s campus. According to Ed Harmon, the pond currently has a million and a half gallon capacity and can be manually drained by facilities personnel to make room for large amounts of rain water and runoff, such as the rain from tropical storm, Sandy. Facilities was able to drain the pond on Saturday, October 27th and again on Monday, October 29th to prevent hurricane rain from overflowing the boundaries of the pond. It also has the capacity to filter debris out of the water. After this cleaner water passes through the filter system at the bottom of the pond, it continues to flow through an underground stream on campus. This stream flows all the way from Rhodes Pond, under Schwartz Gymnasium, and out of the gym parking lot. Before my interview with Ed Harmon, I did not know that this stream existed. It can be easily argued that the pond is the center of campus. Hirakismail does so in her site sit reflections:/exchange/category/type-your-own-topic/rhoads-pond-hiras-site-reflections I would agree with this. As ekthorp pointed out in her reflection on the pond, it is not the center of campus, but rather nestled between boundaries of the campus (/exchange/360-degrees-rhoads-pond).


Wildflower Area

“Has Ed lost his mind?” This was a common question directed at the head of the grounds committee at Bryn Mawr when he began to cultivate the wildflower areas on campus. However, after speaking with him, I was convinced that he has not lost his mind and that wildflower conservation areas on campus are possibly the most ecologically intelligent thing to do with open spaces. As he explained, it is unsafe and uneconomical for facilities workers to mow steep slopes and areas where they have to guide huge lawnmowers around trees, stumps, marshy areas, and light poles. This is why, several years ago, he decided to experiment with a wildflower conservation area behind the Wyndham Alumnae house (/exchange/wildflower-area-history) People are very resistant to change of any sort. We, as a society, have fought hard to prevent many environmental regulations from being put into effect- even through much of one of the largest cities in the country, New York, is still partially under water from hurricane Sandy. Because of this natural human resistance to change, Ed Harmon put up signs explaining what the wildflower conservation areas are and ways in which the community can learn about them.  Mr. Harmon even had the idea to include a bar code on future signs so that members of the community could scan the signs with their smart phones and go directly to the webpage where it explains what exactly these wildflowers areas are. Other wildflower areas on campus are behind the gymnasium, one in progress behind Arncliffe Art Studio, and one on the slope by the new turf field. The garden by the turf field actually helps to stabilize the integrity of the hill after construction was done to the area to make room for the regulation-sixe turf field (Harmon.)



The labyrinth on Bryn Mawr’s campus was donated by alumna Jeanne-Rachel Salomon in 1999, and presented on behalf of that year’s graduating class. Many locations on campus were considered when deciding where to place the labyrinth. It also had to be designed in way so as to be both low-cost and low-maintenance. As Salomon says in her explanation of the labyrinth, “As a place of learning, Bryn Mawr speaks of Being and Becoming. The labyrinth, invented by prehistoric cultures more in tune with the mysteries of Life, addresses Being and Becoming as the related aspects of reality” (Salomon.) The classical seven-circle labyrinth design mowed into the grass behind Rhodes Dorm is a place that is meant to signify the journey of becoming something. It also signifies the important notion of becoming more connected to where you are in the present moment. The labyrinth is an important facet of the geography of the campus because it reminds visitors to focus on being present in the moment and enjoying where they currently are. Salmon adds that, “Many students have discovered the labyrinth’s value for meditation, and use it, especially before exams and final papers, to calm down and center themselves” (Salomon.) The labyrinth is an important tool in both an esthetical sense and in a spiritual sense.


I firmly believe that a working knowledge of the ecological underpinnings of where you live is essential in order to be ecologically literate. Openness to and a curiosity about the place that you inhabit may be one of the keys to solving our ecological crisis. If people care more about the land they inhabit and are more invested in working to preserve that land, they might feel more agency in protecting it. Maybe Bryn Mawr students knew more about campus ecology and infrastructure, they would be more willing to help with it. And maybe, if everyone is required to learn hands-on about their environment, maybe we can discover new ideas about conservation that we had never before considered.

Works Cited

"Bryn Mawr." Main Line Video Guide. Main Line Video Guide, 2012. Web. 1 Nov.

2012. <>.

"EcoLit 313." Serendip Studio. Serendip, 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.


"Erdman Hall." MIMOA. MIMOA, 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. <


"Erdman Hall Dormitories." Great Buildings. Artifice, Inc., 2012. Web. 1 Nov.

2012. <


Harmon, Ed Harmon, Mr. Interview by Emily Tong, 1 Nov. 2012.

Salomon, Jeanne Rachel. "Risks on the Path." Bryn Mawr College. Bryn Mawr

College, 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. <




Serendip Visitor's picture

Can you play pond hockey on

Can you play pond hockey on this? does it freeze enough?

Anne Dalke's picture

Expanding the circle...

I very much like the conception of this piece, as "expanding" your first web event, enlarging the circle you traced there. And I'm wondering, in the two weeks since you posted this paper, if the circles have become even larger, both in space and time? Or if you would like to keep on enlarging them, for your further work in this course? For example,

  • you speak so briefly of the Lenni Lenape--has reading Winona LaDuke's work made you want to know more about them, how they lived their lives and moved through their world? (Bruce Gill really skipped over that era of our shared history....)
  • You say that the stones in the graveyard are "an important cultural resource, because they bear the names of family members buried there" --but the graves, both of the Harrisons and their house slaves, are actually unmarked: How to access that record?
  • You quote Louis Kahn, architect of Erdman, saying that "Nature does not make Art," that "Space is architectural"--but you'll soon learn, if you haven't yet, about the geological history of BMC, from the EcSem EcoImaginers: all the traditional buildings here are built out of Wissahickeon Schist, the rock which underlies the campus; in Kahn's terms, you could say that art has been made of nature, natural space re-shaped architecturally (see two nice poems on this theme: Wissahickon Schist and Meta/phor)
  • I'm really, REALLY struck, though, by Kahn's conception of what college living space is: "“A dormitory should not express a nostalgia for home, it is not a permanent place, but an interim place.” That's very interesting, given all our eco-explorations about fixedness and flexibility, about stasis and change (and also the quote you incorporate later, from Solomon, about BMC as a place of "Being and Becoming").  I also expect that Kahn's notion of dorm rooms as "interim places" runs directly counter to how most Mawrtyrs think of their them, as niches, places of safety and retreat....would more "ecological imagining" or "ecological education" help to shift that conception....?
  • etong's interview w/ Ed Harman didn't answer your questions about how the Groundspeople on campus manage our marshland--do you want to explore this further w/ him?
  • the creek that runs through Rhoads Pond is Mill Creek, the one froggies315 is proposing that we explore for our final fieldtrip, so you may learn more about that, too, if we end up wandering together in that direction
  • your ending is very general and open-ended, observing that if we learned more about where we are, "maybe we can discover new ideas about conservation that we had never before considered." So: what new ideas have emerged for you (or might emerge) as the result of your learning about this space?