How many feet does it take to inspire a city? John Gabbert Bowman (chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh from 1921 to 1945) had the answer to that question when he commissioned the construction of The Cathedral of Learning. The awe-inducing building that soars over the Pitt campus was completed in 1937 and reaches 535 feet, making it the tallest educational building in the United States. Today, it stands as a testament to higher education but even during construction, it was an idea being built for students by students.
The Cathedral of Learning was a practical solution to the space shortage problem produced by a tremendous swell of student enrollment just after the first World War. Although, such an ambitious answer did not go without its obstacle, primarily money concerns. In response, Pittsburgh proved its resilience: over 97,000 school children contributed their coins to the Cathedral’s construction through a “Buy a Brick” program.
Beyond the towering neoclassical design, the Cathedral is home to the equally impressive nationality rooms. These meticulously designed classrooms represent the varied world cultures that come together at the University of Pittsburgh, all in the pursuit of academic achievement.
Personally, during my time at the University of Pittsburgh, the heights of the Cathedral of Learning always seemed to make me stand a little taller and aim a little higher. Its presence carries with it a sense of pride and empowerment. It has to be seen to be felt, but fortunately for all Pittsburgh residents, all you need to do is look up.