Where Education is Sacred

Saturday, June 26, 2010 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 57:  Pittsburgh, PA.  As we were driving around getting to know Pittsburgh yesterday, in the distance we saw a limestone monolith isolated from the rest of the city's skyline.  Of course, we had to learn more, and, as we discovered, we had gone to the right place.
The Cathedral of Learning, once the tallest building in the city, is the centerpiece of the University of Pittsburgh's main campus in the Oakland section of the city. At 42 stories, the cathedral is the tallest educational building in the western hemisphere and the second tallest university building in the world (behind a Moscow State University structure).

Conceived by the university chancellor in 1921, the building was completed in 1934.  The main part of the Cathedral's first floor is the Commons Room, a Gothic-style hall that covers half an acre and extends upwards four stories. A gift of Andrew Mellon, the room represents true Gothic architecture with no steel supports used in the construction of its arches. Each arch is a true arch, and they support their own weight.
The commons room
Despite its heavy use by students, the Commons Room is kept quiet by the use of acoustical tiles as the stones between the ribs of vaulting.  If this kind of atmosphere doesn't inspire studying, it's difficult to imagine one that would.

Hallways around the perimeter of the Commons Room on the first and third floors feature "nationality rooms," classrooms designed to celebrate different cultures that had an influence on Pittsburgh's development.  The classrooms were gifts to the university from the city's ethnic communities, often with contributions from the countries they represent.
The English classroom
The English classroom was designed in the Tudor style similar to the British House of Commons. Some of the artifacts in the room were rescued from the House of Commons after it was bombed in World War II and donated by the British government.
The Italian classroom
The Italian classroom is modeled after a 15th century Tuscan monastery. Student benches are carved with names and founding dates of Italian universities. The oldest is the University of Bologna, established in 1088.

Of museum quality, the rooms are designed to recreate cultural periods prior to 1787, the year the university was founded. All except two of the 27 nationality rooms are in regular use as classrooms by university students and professors. Eight additional rooms are under development.
The cathedral's limestone facade from ground level
This magnificent building dedicated to education is truly a cathedral of learning. Above the 15-foot wrought iron gates leading to the elevators in the commons room is this inscription: "Here is eternal spring; for you the very stars of heaven are new."

  • Miles driven: 70
  • Letterboxes: 2
  • High temp: 84° F
Cathedral of Learning Stats
  • Height: 535 feet
  • Rooms: 2,000+
  • Windows: 2,529
  • Schoolchildren who donated a dime for construction: 100,000+
  • Common Room ceiling height: 52 ft
  • Peregrine falcons nesting at tower: 2
  • Peregrine babies born at tower (since 2002): 29