Hidden Treasures: Planning a Masterpiece

Issue Date: 
April 28, 2014

TheCathedral Cathedral of Learning’s grand archways, stone carvings, and dramatic gothic interior have made it one of the most famous educational buildings in the world, as well as a Pittsburgh architectural masterpiece. Thanks to the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of English, the sketches that started it all are available for public enjoyment.

The Department of English’s Suite 501 displays copies of architect Charles Klauder’s original architectural drawings for the Cathedral. As part of a 2011 renovation, the blueprints were copied from archived 1930s copies of the original drawings, printed on transparent film, applied to semi-opaque glass, and then placed on wood paneled walls, backlit with LED strip lighting. 

The panels’ installation in the colloquium room that houses them came during the second phase of a two-year project to modernize historically significant spaces in the Cathedral. It is no coincidence that the Cathedral’s fourth and fifth floors once housed Pitt’s main library, making a fitting home for the Department of English.

“With such a heavy emphasis on respecting the history of these spaces, our architect thought that a detail using the original architectural drawing would be an appropriate homage to what had come before, and the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences wholeheartedly agreed,” said Jeremiah D.V. McKain, operations manager for the Dean’s Office in the Dietrich School and overseer of the renovation.

In addition to wall-to-wall Cathedral blueprints, Suite 501 is embellished by a wainscot of ornate wooden panels, which were salvaged from the 1930s circulation desk of the Cathedral’s long-since demolished library.

Although Klauder’s original sketches have disappeared into history, the exact replicas hanging in the English department offer a unique and invaluable perspective of the work that goes into planning a masterpiece.

—By Melissa Carlson