Friday, November 23, 2012

A Cathedral of Learning

I've spent a lifetime in academia, and pretty much thought I knew a lot about it. However, on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh there is a building with a 40 story tower that looks like a Gothic cathedral, but isn't. I'd never heard of it.

The building is the Cathedral of Learning - Gothic architecture applied to a university building. It's the only Gothic building I've ever been in that was warm - the heater was running. The C of L contains classrooms, offices, and study areas on stone floors in vast, soaring spaces.

The Cathedral looks and feels like Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from the Harry Potter series of books and films. I kept expecting to see a poster recruiting members for the Gobstones Club or the Quiddich team, or alternatively a monk in robe and sandals.

Go to the other DrC's blog ( to see photos of this amazing place. The bishop's chairs are elegant, I must have spent at least a half hour sitting in one, wishing I wore my academic robes. I have no priestly ambitions but I can imagine the dons of Oxford or Cambridge using these grand seats.

Various classrooms have been decorated to reflect the ethnic roots of American immigrants from various places in Europe and elsewhere. I particularly liked the ceilings in several of the rooms, like the German and Swedish classrooms - beautiful stuff. Of course, when what you're decorating is a working class or seminar room, the ceiling is the one thing you can be relatively certain the students can't deface so that may be where you put your effort and resources.

We toured the ground floor. Oddly, the rooms included two countries which no longer exist: Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. If you get to Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning is worth a visit.