Saturday, June 11

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

My business life involves an annual visit to the Pennsylvanian city of Pittsburgh - famous historically as the centre of the steel industry, and named after the British statesman William Pitt the Elder.

My colleague and I usually plan to arrive on Saturday and have a free day on Sunday, which enables us to do a bit of sightseeing or shopping - whether it's the Warhol Museum, cycling along the riverside bikepaths, or checking out one of the city's ginormous yarn stores.

This year we revisited the amazing Cathedral of Learning, part of the University of Pittsburgh; a late gothic revival building which is a dramatic landmark in the city and houses some fantastic architecture.

The building was commissioned in 1921 and opened in 1937 - its design by architect Charles Klauder was intended to combine the trend for skyscrapers with the ideals of gothic architecture, and its steel framed, stone-clad building achieves this very successfully. There was a lot of resistance to the height of the structure (163m) at the time - unsurprisingly as it is huge and can be seen for miles around.

In the central area of the ground floor is a huge reading room - the Commons Room - which has been called one of the "great architectural fantasies of the twentieth century". It is a fifteenth-century English perpendicular Gothic-style hall that covers 2,000m² and extends over four storeys, to a height of 16m.

Chancellor John Gabbert Bowman, who commissioned the building, wanted to recognise the many nationalities that had contributed to the development of the city, and he did so by commissioning the nationality rooms - a series of 27 classrooms representing those nationalities of which there was a significant population in the city.

Invitations were extended to the nationality communities that made up the Pittsburgh area to provide a room that was representative of their heritage. Each group had to form a Room Committee, which would be responsible for all fundraising, designing, and acquisition. The University provided the room and upkeep in perpetuity once completed, while all other materials, labour, and design were provided by the individual committees.

These rooms are still used as classrooms - afterward, in a bar down the road, we chatted to an undergraduate at the university who had been assigned several of these rooms for lessons during his studies there.

The building is open to visitors, and you can visit the Commons Room and peek into the Syria-Lebanon room anytime, as it has a glass front to it. I think they run tours of the Nationality Rooms but couldn't find any link online. We snuck in for a look and tried the doors of the classrooms, some of which were open, including my favourite, the Hungarian Room.

The wonderful stained glass windows with images of famous Hungarians and scenes from folk tales were a highlight (I recommend you click the pictures to see the full details):

1 comment:

Gareth Gardner said...

What an amazing building! The vaulted Commons Room sounds incredible.