Gothic Colleges

ablarc

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Princeton tops U.S. News rankings, again



By JUSTIN POPE, AP Education Writer

Princeton holds the top spot in the latest U.S. News & World Report college rankings, the eighth straight year the private, New Jersey school has either tied or held the top slot outright.

Just like last year, Princeton was followed by Harvard at No. 2 and Yale at No. 3 in the controversial rankings. As usual, a few schools moved up or down a slot, but there were no major changes. Stanford was No. 4, followed by Cal Tech and the University of Pennsylvania tied for fifth.

Williams and Amherst were the highest-ranked liberal arts colleges.
New this year: The magazine has included the service academies. The U.S. Naval Academy is ranked No. 20 in the liberal arts college category, and the U.S. Military Academy is No. 22. The U.S. Air Force Academy leads the list of "Best Baccalaureate Colleges" in the western region.

The formula for the rankings includes variables such as graduation and retention rates, faculty and financial resources, and the percentage of alumni donating money to their alma mater. The biggest single variable ? and the most controversial ? is a reputation assessment by peer institutions.

The top 10 national universities were:

1. Princeton University

2. Harvard University

3. Yale University

4. Stanford University

5. California Institute of Technology

University of Pennsylvania (tie)

7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

8. Duke University

9. Columbia University

University of Chicago (tie)

* * *

FACTOID:

Setting aside entirely any question about the above list?s validity, it?s striking that five out of ten of the top campuses are characterized by Gothic architecture.

Are even one percent of American colleges in general built in the Gothic style?

When a movie director wants to show the star entering an important public building, he has him climb the long flight of steps up to an august Beaux-Arts pile like the Supreme Court or New York?s Custom House ?or a lesser Beaux-Arts building.

Our conditioning to see such buildings as important is almost Pavlovian. And why not? Their creators certainly thought of them as important; they designed the portentousness right in.

American Collegiate Gothic is a mostly 20th Century phenomenon, but it has almost as much grip on our minds. Three of the colleges on the above list ?Princeton, Yale and Penn-- were founded in the Eighteenth Century and should by rights be Colonial in style. Each preserves a remnant from that era and Gothicized itself in the early years of the last Century ?about the time the other two on the list were getting started: Duke and Chicago.

If you had asked either Duke?s president or his architect, Ralph Adams Cram, if they were consciously projecting an aura of ivory-tower scholarly quality with the design of their buildings, they would have responded with a resounding ?Yes!? Oxford and Cambridge were the paradigm; and everybody knew these were the two best in the world. It was a veritable orgy of Anglophilia.

They imported not just the architectural style, but also the programs that gave rise to the style: the notion of decentralized academic units (?colleges?), which mixed dormitory functions with the academic and even the athletic. Each such unit featured its own dining hall, library, seminar rooms, faculty, endowments, heraldry, traditions, athletic teams (and even some facilities like squash courts).

They even cooked up coats of arms and heraldic devices to differentiate these colleges from each other, but the most brilliant touch was that all were built to enclose verdant gated courtyards walled off from the outside world to concretize the academic separation, the ivory tower, the sense of community, the monastic introspection?

If I could give a struggling college just one piece of advice to improve its standing, its alumni giving and the perceived quality of its academic program, I would say: ?start building in the Gothic style.?

Worked for West Point and Wellesley.

Yale, Penn and Princeton built interesting Modernist buildings while that style raged. These were remarkably compatible with their Gothic predecessors from day one. They projected a certain subtle medievalism through masonry heft and top-drawer design and build (think Rudolph, Saarinen and Kahn). Princeton just completed its first overtly Gothic college in ages: a harbinger of things to come?

As long as design is of such stellar quality, there's no damage to the aura of quality emittted by these campuses --even if the modern buildings come to be hated, as with Rudolph's Art and Architecture Building (a towering artwork however much it's scorned by philistines).

If it's junk, however ... well, junk is junk. At Duke, the modern stuff seems to degrade the swank.

Princeton surveyed its students and found the vast majority wanted to live in a Gothic college.


Gothic digs at Princeton.

That was partly because Princeton had been building them modernist chefs-d?oeuvre to live in for decades. The modernist masterpieces now looked like this:


Student accommodations by the highly original genius I.M. Pei.

Consequently the Administration adopted a new building policy. Henceforth the center of the campus --which includes all the undergraduate housing-- will be a Gothic zone to match the buildings loved by everyone save Modernist architects:



Simultaneously Princeton would adopt the undergraduate college system, each college to have a dining hall, a library, and other common facilities. The student survey showed that?s what undergrads want. In the campus fringes: anything goes.

Construction has started on the first new Gothic college:


Whitman College, Princeton.

Much of the money for Whitman College was donated by Meg Whitman, Chair of eBay. It?s designed by somewhat-talented revivalist and Driehaus Prize winner, Demetri Porphyrios:



A polemicist for neo-tradional building methods, Porphyrios? practiced up at Oxbridge:

.


The result was pretty good.

Once known as eclectic-friendly, famed pluralist Frank Gehry groused that in this day and age an institution of higher learning should have no truck with traditional architecture; and Robert Venturi, noncomformist mastermind of quasi-revivalist buildings that had once rankled his peers, piped up unexpectedly to agree. Traditional architecture, it seems, provides fodder for architectural comedy routines and riffs, but can?t legitimately be practiced unalloyed.

Porphyrios and Princeton are undeterred. Their building will easily last a thousand years. Only optimism about the future can explain such investment in the long term. Reassuring, that; don?t you think it speaks subliminally to all who can see? It certainly conveys quality; this limestone is solid, not veneered concrete:


Whitman College: solid stone dining hall under construction, 2007.

Number-One-ranked Princeton has flown the Modernist coop; no longer thrilled by the likes of Pei and Gwathmey, its apostate turnabout might topple distant dominoes in Tulane and Stanford. Already Duke and others are tearing down or recladding Modernist buildings --some driven by aesthetics, others seeking longevity and lower maintenance. A well-built building:















photos by John Massengale

Declares Porphyrios? fellow-traveler, the traditionalist architect John Massengale: ?Architects now, while saying that they are promoting the new and the different, are actually fighting for things to remain the same.?

New and different has become the same old thing; sometimes you have to go back to the future --particularly if you?re in a dead end.
http://massengale.typepad.com/venustas/2004/03/whos_afraid_of_.html

Continues Massengale: ?Modernism was the cultural expression of a good deal of the second half of the 20th century, but we?re in the 21st century now, and for most Americans Modernism is just a style ? not a lifestyle or an ideology. It?s normal today to work in a high-tech office and go home at night to a new Traditional Neighborhood...

In a recent article ... the San Francisco Chronicle?s architecture critic talked about a new survey of the hipper-than-hip twenty-somethings in Silicon Valley. ?They all want their own computer and a plasma television, but at the same time they also love the traditional look ... ?We?re working in high-tech impersonal settings all day; we want to go home to Grandma?s house.? That was the exact phrase one used.??







Porphyrios? original schematic model:



His original, more anbitious detailing before value engineering:



Lauritzen family funds Whitman College dormitory

by Eric Quinones

The Lauritzen family of Omaha, Neb., has made a $5.5 million gift to fund the construction of an imposing new gothic dormitory within Whitman College, Princeton University's newest residence complex.

The gift comes from Bruce R. Lauritzen, a member of the class of 1965, a prominent Nebraska philanthropist, chairman of First National Bank of Omaha.

The new dormitory, to be named Lauritzen Hall, will overlook the large lower courtyard of Whitman College. Whitman is the first of Princeton's colleges to be built from the ground up rather than pieced together from existing structures.

As part of a major reorganization of Princeton's residential college system, the college will include students from all four undergraduate classes as well as graduate students.

"This splendid gift brings us closer to the day when we can welcome an expanded student body to a new residential college system that will strengthen the academic and social ties within our University community," said President Shirley M. Tilghman...

"Princeton offers the finest undergraduate education in the country," said Bruce Lauritzen. "Our family's goal is to see that the University not only maintains that excellence but even strengthens it going forward."...

Whitman College, designed in collegiate gothic style by noted architect Demetri Porphyrios, is under construction between Baker Rink and Dillon Gymnasium and scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2007. The new college will make possible an 11 percent increase in Princeton's undergraduate student body, from about 4,600 to 5,100.

















How it will look in about a thousand years:



The best of all American Gothic campuses, because the most urban:



 

czsz

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Are you implying some kind of link between the Gothic and educational quality (or at least the factors that weigh heavily in rankings methodology?)

The more obvious trend, which applies to almost all the top ten universities you listed, is the architectural branding of each institution. Gothic is simply the most prevalent brand, but to the degree that Princeton's architecture contributes to its aura, at least, the same can be said of Stanford's Spanish Mission style, or Columbia's neoclassicism.

Minor point - the last time I wandered through Princeton, the endless succession of Gothic courtyards was disorienting. This is not to say I blame this on the Gothic - Yale and Oxbridge manage, however, to shed the repetitious quality that plagues the Princeton campus. In all such environments, however, building's like Pei's really stand out. It inspired far more thought on my part about how a college dormitory works - and what it represents - than another Gothic college courtyard. Shouldn't universities - at least in part - challenge students' understanding of art with their built environments, or simply resurrect time-tested styles ad nauseam in the attempt to spoon feed prospective students their Platonic ideal of what the academy looks like? Can students think outside the box in an institution that looks as if it's never tried to do so itself?
 

kennedy

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Other than the gothic link to architecture, how am I benefitting by reading your little essay?
 

vanshnookenraggen

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You gotta get yourself a blog, ablarc.

czsz: I would argue that it is not the style that is important but that the style possesses a quality of humanity that encourages learning. Gothic, Spanish Mission, Neoclassical, these all have the capacity for grandeur that inspires the mind. The failure of most modern campuses is that they are not designed to inspire but to dominate and intimidate. Modernist wanted a sterile environment that was devoid of the clutter of humanity. They didn't think that that was good for the mind. They were wrong as hell and it is good to see colleges stepping back to realize this. Maybe once we get back on track we can create an architectural style worthy to be a successor to these fine works.
 

ablarc

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czsz said:
Are you implying some kind of link between the Gothic and educational quality
Yeah, but it's not my implication; it's made by the culture.

(or at least the factors that weigh heavily in rankings methodology?)
That may be real, but it's subliminal.

The more obvious trend, which applies to almost all the top ten universities you listed, is the architectural branding of each institution. Gothic is simply the most prevalent brand, but to the degree that Princeton's architecture contributes to its aura, at least, the same can be said of Stanford's Spanish Mission style, or Columbia's neoclassicism.
Absolutely, this is true.

Minor point - the last time I wandered through Princeton, the endless succession of Gothic courtyards was disorienting. This is not to say I blame this on the Gothic - Yale and Oxbridge manage, however, to shed the repetitious quality that plagues the Princeton campus.
My impression exactly. Couldn't agree more.

In all such environments, however, building's like Pei's really stand out. It inspired far more thought on my part about how a college dormitory works - and what it represents - than another Gothic college courtyard. Shouldn't universities - at least in part - challenge students' understanding of art with their built environments, or simply resurrect time-tested styles ad nauseam in the attempt to spoon feed prospective students their Platonic ideal of what the academy looks like?
The answer you get depends on how you ask the question. You could ask that question differently. In any case, the Pei building is not long for this world. Ask yourself why. Is it hated as much as Boston City Hall or Rudolph's buildings? And possibly for the same reasons?

Can students think outside the box in an institution that looks as if it's never tried to do so itself?
The university should teach subtlety of mind. That faculty enables the sensitive to distinguish Gamble Rogers' endless inventiveness from the plodding of Porphyrios. My complaint isn't with his Gothic style; it's that he's not a brilliant architect.
 

ablarc

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vanshnookenraggen said:
I would argue that it is not the style that is important but that the style possesses a quality of humanity that encourages learning. Gothic, Spanish Mission, Neoclassical, these all have the capacity for grandeur that inspires the mind.
Right on.

The failure of most modern campuses is that they are not designed to inspire but to dominate and intimidate.
Often modernist buildings are just boring. What does that do to your mind?
 

ablarc

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kennedy said:
Other than the gothic link to architecture, how am I benefitting by reading your little essay?
Perhaps not at all. (For you to decide.)
 

justin

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I had the bad luck (or perhaps it was Princeton's) of visiting Princeton for the first time shortly after a trip to Oxford. Even though much of Oxford gothic is fake as well, the Americans have only ever managed a pale immitation. American gothic campuses are gray and cramped by comparison -- you'd think that the honey-colored limestone that is a good part of Oxford's magic would be the easiest thing to copy.

Not that Princeton or Yale are ugly, far from it; on the whole, I like them better than Harvard's sea of pseudo-quasi-neo-Georgian. If you need a safe and humane style that will successfully project the brand, by all means, pile on the gargoyles. A lot of Modernism was just plain bad, but it was intellectually charged in the way that polite copies never are, Is it logically impossible to recapture that energy and innovation without repeating the mistakes? Can there not be a style that is pleasant and new? After all, Gothic was at some point. If I knew what it should be, I wouldn't be an armchair critic.

There's a sad, though not necessarily meaningful, symbolism in great universities chosing safety of faked antiquity over innovation.

justin
 

statler

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Am I right in calling BU's main building a weird deco/Gothic hybrid or is it just bad Gothic?
 

bosdevelopment

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statler said:
Am I right in calling BU's main building a weird deco/Gothic hybrid or is it just bad Gothic?
I'd term CAS as a precast bunch of crap.
 
P

Patrick

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Thanks for this post I thoroughly enjoyed it

There does seem to be a link between Gothic and educational quality, czsz, but I think it may have more to do with the amount of time certain institutions have been around

older universities seem to have been constructed during a time when emulating the gothic style of British institutions was the norm; add to this the fact that they have had substantially more time to build their academic reputations, and the link seems obvious to me

any potential link between gothic aesthetics and educational inspiration may have developed after the fact, when the general public, witnessing the correlation, started making the same association

The University of Vermont, founded in 1791, is pretty gothic, I'll share some photos if anyone is interested

I think the architecture lends itself to a feeling of prestige
 

ablarc

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statler said:
Am I right in calling BU's main building a weird deco/Gothic hybrid or is it just bad Gothic?
Deco-Gothic.

Other examples: Gamble Rogers' hospitals/medical schools on New York's East River, Hood's American Radiator Building, misc. buildings by Eliel Saarinen.

The blend works pretty well most of the time.
 

ablarc

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justin said:
I had the bad luck (or perhaps it was Princeton's) of visiting Princeton for the first time shortly after a trip to Oxford. Even though much of Oxford gothic is fake as well, the Americans have only ever managed a pale immitation. American gothic campuses are gray and cramped by comparison -- you'd think that the honey-colored limestone that is a good part of Oxford's magic would be the easiest thing to copy.
Yale has it. In the sun after a thunderstorm, it glows like burnished gold. By contrast, Princeton is a flinty grey.

Is it logically impossible to recapture that energy and innovation without repeating the mistakes? Can there not be a style that is pleasant and new? After all, Gothic was at some point. If I knew what it should be, I wouldn't be an armchair critic.
In fact, you'd be a genius. There have only been three styles in the entire history of Western architecture: classical, medieval and modern. Deco is modern with ornament, and Art Nouveau is pre-modern.





Why does no one complain about H.H. Richardson's revival of Romanesque medievalism? Oh, I guess he was sanctified by the popes of modernism as a precursor --a kind of running dog of modernism. That's based entirely on one quirk --ganged strip windows-- and he cribbed that from Tudor.
 

Beton Brut

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Nice thread, ablarc. I'm with justin, in my preference of Gothic over classical campuses, although it's hard to argue with Jefferson's work at university of Virginia.

This struck me:

ablarc said:
Why does no one complain about H.H. Richardson's revival of Romanesque medievalism? Oh, I guess he was sanctified by the popes of modernism as a precursor --a kind of running dog of modernism. That's based entirely on one quirk --ganged strip windows-- and he cribbed that from Tudor.
There's a little more to this -- Richardson is pre-organic (as opposed to pre-modern), in his committed, no-nonsense use of materials and by placing buildings on a rustic stylobate. Wright learned all of this (through Louis Sullivan), who was surely inspired by this fine Richardson home in Chicago.

If the "Moderns" claim Richardson as "one of their own," it may be because they saw this and drew their own map.
 

bdurden

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bosdevelopment said:
statler said:
Am I right in calling BU's main building a weird deco/Gothic hybrid or is it just bad Gothic?
I'd term CAS as a precast bunch of crap.
And yet it is neither precast nor crap. It is neo-gothic.
 

dbhstockton

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Just an aside: The central figure in the collegiate Gothic movement was esteemed Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram, one of the last times Boston would export an architectural trend.
 

ablarc

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justin said:
I had the bad luck (or perhaps it was Princeton's) of visiting Princeton for the first time shortly after a trip to Oxford. Even though much of Oxford gothic is fake as well, the Americans have only ever managed a pale imitation. American gothic campuses are gray and cramped by comparison
PRINCETON:



Gray, to be sure.

But cramped? There is too much space, and it?s all the same and average. Compared with Cambridge, the spaces are shapeless, unmodulated, monotonous, unvaried, suburban and weakly-defined.

And yet ... yes, cramped. I can see why you felt that way. Desiccated by small thought, cramped because there?s no largesse. Banal, commonplace, flat, ho hum, lifeless, matter-of-fact, ordinary, pedestrian, predictable, prosaic, routine, tame, tedious, uncreative, uninspired, unoriginal, unromantic, usual.

And the space leaks from here to Timbuktu. There?s simultaneously too much space and too little space. This is the suburbs after all, and that means you?re really always in the same space.

And as elsewhere in Suburbia ... there are even parking lots!

By contrast,

CAMBRIDGE:


A variety of spaces, some huge, some tiny, some channels of space, but all defined. The buildings stretch to the limits of their lots, gulping space. That is the urban condition. None of the space is leaky or infinite; that would be the suburban condition. You?ll find that aplenty in Princeton.


Likewise the landscaping is neither standardized nor perfunctory. Some courts are treeless (the architecture?s beauty suffices; others are choked with trees; and yet others feature a central bosk.


Town meets gown intimately and irregularly, as in Harvard Square. Redheads mixed with blondes (some platinum).


Though building footprints may vary, the scale does not. Whether gown or town, there?s a fine busyness of articulation that bans the dreary and the oppressive --except maybe in the two modernist courtyards toward the upper right? Vertical bands, horizontal bands ? Why do we need bands at all?


Organic, huh? A thousand vacuoles, all breathing.


An essay in scale: the King?s chapel paltrifies a classical fa?ade just beyond that elsewhere would seem mighty. Here you can take delight that it?s mighty diminutive in its setting. (Note the market in the square at far right.


Zooming out a bit?

With great aplomb, Powell and Moya?s riverside modernist college addition walks the rope between space making and modernist spatial ideology:



It partly defines a courtyard and partly flaunts itself as a free-standing object:



Below, the very definition of landscape architecture. Is there anything even remotely comparable at Princeton?


Look: the landscape is architecture, and the architecture landscape. Together they espouse a jagged skyline, rhythmic repeats, common mass and a squared-up blockiness to disburse in Eden ... quadrangular chambers with emerald floors.

And the willows weep contrapuntally right into the water.

Check out the spatial events greeting punters on that river.

Imagine the foliate gloom of both approaches to that little bridge.

Live vicariously the sequence from court with round green rug and mop of trees (center); then through the building by (doubtless) a vaulted passage; then burst to the great outdoors in all its ... dense and baffling shade! Relief comes brief above the luminosity of water, then back into the leafy tunnel on the bank beyond.

Do we even have the courage in this country to let a tree touch a building? We do everything according to rules and ?knowledge? to which we ascribe ironclad inviolability, and those rules are based on conventional wisdom. Little wonder, then, that our products are predictable, boring, uninspired ...

To finish, check out the elaborate composition of verdure in the upper right; complicated by superfluous design, this part perhaps satisfies the least.



Funded by the king and regal in the simplicity of its parti, King?s College Chapel functions perhaps as England?s Taj Mahal:


To my eye, this building has the most beautiful interior I?ve seen. Across the street: the commercial scrabble of High Street shops.


Many Cambridge colleges occupy a swathe between a principal commercial street (left) and the River Cam (right). On the far side, a courtyarded Modernist college interacts with an arc of Gothic Revival (top right).


An aggregation of rental punts suggests the volume of picnic-bound river traffic on a sunny Sunday. Tourists and Cantabrigians alike avail themselves of these tricky boats. The oarsman stands in the rear like a gondolier and hopes he doesn?t fall. Of course the inexperienced regularly get themselves dunked ?particularly if their pole gets stuck in the mud.


Hoary with age, fine-grained medieval buildings fill both town and gown and contrast stylistically with a dignified temple front (far left). This faces some particularly diminutive cottages that give some idea of the urban texture of Cambridge in the Middle Ages.


It appears that most of the medieval-looking stuff hereabouts is 19th Century. Some slightly jarring modern intrusions are also inserted.




It?s not quite a banality-free zone; some of the stuff at right looks almost like public housing.

Gothic is all about poking into the sky:



Gables galore:



Oxford exhibits a similar pattern:





Not hard to spot where the botanists hang out:



The zone of high architecture reaches a crescendo with Wren and Gibbs. Here buildings stand free as objects; you can walk completely around their rotund forms:



Oxford in miniature, Eton, an elite primary and high school:





The pattern superimposed on an American city?s grid, New Haven. Yale:







The pattern again ?



?but in a different style:


Hard to tell it?s not a model photo or rendering.

Stanford, another university in America?s top ten:





Outwards from the center, things start to get less delightful, and rows of parked cars start to appear. But the primo abomination is the one with the flat roof. Even a mansard of red tile would have been better:



Some buildings below are so perfunctory and uncaring that their architects should be shot. Summarily and without trial:



Red roofs again, but this time in Gothic:


University of Chicago, another top-rated.

Two vicious interlopers spoil every scene they?re part of. One sits at the end of an axis; at least that one has the decency to put on a rudimentary red hat. The other is totally void of redeeming characteristics:



Across the street, the usual jumble of Modernist chaos, worse than Longwood. Where would you rather find yourself?:



How could they have allowed a major axis to end so badly?:



Even worse. Not even the street is respected by arbitrary and uninteresting sculpture-making. Also a waste of space:



Quadrangles in New York formed by free-standing Beaux-Arts chunks:


Columbia, a top-tenner





The formula in Colonial clothes:


Harvard. At least there?s a river, but it?s a far cry from the Cam.

Not that Princeton or Yale are ugly, far from it; on the whole, I like them better than Harvard's sea of pseudo-quasi-neo-Georgian. If you need a safe and humane style that will successfully project the brand, by all means, pile on the gargoyles. A lot of Modernism was just plain bad, but it was intellectually charged in the way that polite copies never are, Is it logically impossible to recapture that energy and innovation without repeating the mistakes? Can there not be a style that is pleasant and new? After all, Gothic was at some point. If I knew what it should be, I wouldn't be an armchair critic.

There's a sad, though not necessarily meaningful, symbolism in great universities choosing safety of faked antiquity over innovation.
Maybe it?s just fitting into a tradition ?like speaking English and wearing clothes. Maybe each of us should invent his own language and ?

.
 

Beton Brut

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Ablarc -- many thanks for another insightful post. And thanks for reminding me that in my youth, I failed utterly to make the most of my education, and as an adult, I haven't traveled nearly enough.
 

ablarc

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dbhstockton said:
Some eye-level views would have been nice.
Not exactly always from street level, and not of Cambridge or Oxford, these may serve as stopgaps. They do exemplify the care and attention to detail that Collegiate Gothic practitioners often display.

A gargoyle from the Twenties, bearing the scales of justice:


Yale Law School.

It?s one of plenty that festoon this institution:


Criminals in the middle, cop with cap and nightstick at right.


Windbag prof and sacked-out students.


?U R A Joke.?

Also at the Law School, distinguished jurists dignify the windows. Architect Rogers specified that workmen should randomly break panes in newly-installed windows and then repair them with lead. The patina of centuries compressed into a single day:



More broken panes:



The Age of Craftsmanship:



Ornamental sensibility extends throughout these buildings:



It?s obvious to the student that somebody cared:



Makes you feel special. Folks who feel special might do special things.

Two of them became President. The wife of one of them --whom she met here-- is vying to be next.

Library entrance encrusted with talismans of wisdom (perhaps not strictly gargoyles):



Reverence and awe at the checkout desk:



From the stacks you can play voyeur:







Or you can stroll the cloister for inspiration to strike:



...while contemplating the vaults of eternity (now equipped, alas, with fire-marshal clutter):



Framed views from the medieval Age of Scholarship:



Trumbull College Master?s House entrance court:


A previous master parked his MG-TD in this court. It completed the scene in racing green.



Stage sets for monastic learning:

.


Clearly King?s Chapel, but also the Law Library. Study as worship:





.






Photos by Altopower, Flickr.
 

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