Collegiate Gothic

Collegiate Gothic is an architectural style subgenre of Gothic Revival architecture, popular in the late-19th and early-20th centuries for college and high school buildings in the United States and Canada, and to a certain extent Europe. A form of historicist architecture, it took its inspiration from English Tudor and Gothic buildings. It has returned in the 21st century in the form of prominent new buildings at schools and universities including Princeton and Yale.[1]

Ralph Adams Cram, arguably the leading Gothic Revival architect and theoretician in the early 20th century, wrote about the appeal of the Gothic for educational facilities in his book Gothic Quest: "Through architecture and its allied arts we have the power to bend men and sway them as few have who depended on the spoken word. It is for us, as part of our duty as our highest privilege to act...for spreading what is true."[2]



Gothic Revival architecture was used for American college buildings as early as 1829, when "Old Kenyon" was completed on the campus of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.[3] Another early example was Alexander Jackson Davis's University Hall (1833–37, demolished 1890), on New York University's Washington Square campus. Richard Bond's church-like library for Harvard College, Gore Hall (1837–41, demolished 1913), became the model for other library buildings.[4][5] James Renwick, Jr.'s Free Academy Building (1847–49, demolished 1928), for what is today City College of New York, continued in the style. Inspired by London's Hampton Court Palace, Swedish-born Charles Ulricson designed Old Main (1856–57) at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.[6]

Following the Civil War, idiosyncratic High Victorian Gothic buildings were added to the campuses of American colleges, including Yale College (Farnam Hall, built in 1869–70; designed by architect Russell Sturgis); the University of Pennsylvania (College Hall, 1870–72, Thomas W. Richards); Harvard College (Memorial Hall, 1870–77, William Robert Ware and Henry Van Brunt); and Cornell University (Sage Hall (1871–75, Charles Babcock). In 1871, English architect William Burges designed a row of vigorous French Gothic-inspired buildings for Trinity CollegeSeabury Hall, Northam Tower, Jarvis Hall (all completed 1878) – in Hartford, Connecticut.

Tastes became more conservative in the 1880s, and "collegiate architecture soon after came to prefer a more scholarly and less restless Gothic."[7]


Beginning in the late-1880s, Philadelphia architects Walter Cope and John Stewardson expanded the campus of Bryn Mawr College in an understated English Gothic style that was highly sensitive to site and materials. Inspired by the architecture of Oxford and Cambridge universities, and historicists but not literal copyists, Cope & Stewardson were highly influential in establishing the Collegiate Gothic style.[8] Commissions followed for collections of buildings at the University of Pennsylvania (1895–1911), Princeton University (1896–1902), and Washington University in St. Louis (1899–1909), marking the nascent beginnings of a movement that transformed many college campuses across the country.

In 1901, the firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge created a master plan for a Collegiate Gothic campus for the fledgling University of Chicago, then spent the next 15 years completing it. Some of their works, such as the Mitchell Tower (1901–1908), were near-literal copies of historic buildings.

George Browne Post designed the City College of New York's new campus (1903–1907) at Hamilton Heights, Manhattan, in the style.

The style was experienced up-close by a wide audience at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri. The World's Fair and 1904 Olympic Games were held on the newly completed campus of Washington University, which delayed occupying its buildings until 1905.

The movement gained further momentum when Charles Donagh Maginnis designed Gasson Hall at Boston College in 1908. Maginnis & Walsh went on to design Collegiate Gothic buildings at some twenty-five other campuses, including the main buildings at Emmanuel College (Massachusetts), and the law school at the University of Notre Dame.

Ralph Adams Cram designed one of the most poetic collections of Collegiate Gothic buildings for the Princeton University Graduate College (1911–1917).

James Gamble Rogers did extensive work at Yale University, beginning in 1917. Some critics claim he took historicist fantasy to an extreme, while others choose to focus on what is widely considered to be the resulting beautiful and sophisticated Yale campus.[9] Rogers was criticized by the growing Modernist movement.[10] His cathedral-like Sterling Memorial Library (1927–1930), with its ecclesiastical imagery and lavish use of ornament, came under vocal attack from one of Yale's own undergraduates:

A modern building constructed for purely modern needs has no excuse for going off in an orgy of meretricious medievalism and stale iconography.[11]

Other architects, notably John Russell Pope and Bertram Goodhue (who just before his death sketched the original version of Yale's Sterling Library from which Rogers worked), advocated for and contributed to Yale's particular version of Collegiate Gothic.[12][13]

When McMaster University moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canadian architect William Lyon Somerville designed its new campus (1928–1930) in the style.

Origins of the term

American architect Alexander Jackson Davis is "generally credited with coining the term"[14] documented in a handwritten description of his own "English Collegiate Gothic Mansion" of 1853 for the Harrals of Bridgeport, Connecticut.[15] By the 1890s, the movement was known as "Collegiate Gothic".[16]

1904 commentary

In his praise for Cope & Stewardson's Quadrangle Dormitories at the University of Pennsylvania, architect Ralph Adams Cram revealed some of the racial and cultural implications underlying the Collegiate Gothic:

It was, of course, in the great group of dormitories for the University of Pennsylvania that Cope and Stewardson first came before the entire country as the great exponents of architectural poetry and of the importance of historical continuity and the connotation of scholasticism. These buildings are among the most remarkable yet built in America ...

First of all, let it be said at once that primarily they are what they should be: scholastic in inspiration and effect, and scholastic of the type that is ours by inheritance; of Oxford and Cambridge, not of Padua or Wittenberg or Paris. They are picturesque also, even dramatic; they are altogether wonderful in mass and in composition. If they are not a constant inspiration to those who dwell within their walls or pass through their "quads" or their vaulted archways, it is not their fault but that of the men themselves.

The [Spanish-American War Memorial] tower has been severely criticized as an archaeological abstraction reared to commemorate contemporary American heroism. The criticism seems just to me, though only in a measure. American heroism harks back to English heroism; the blood shed before Manila and on San Juan Hill was the same blood that flowed at Bosworth Field, Flodden, and the Boyne. Therefore the British base of the design is indispensable, for such were the racial foundations.[17]


Collegiate Gothic complexes were most often horizontal compositions, save for a single tower or towers serving as an exclamation.

At the University of Pittsburgh, Charles Klauder was commissioned by University of Pittsburgh chancellor John Gabbert Bowman to design a tall building in the form of a Gothic tower.[18] What he produced, the Cathedral of Learning (1926–37), has been described as the literal culmination of late Gothic Revival architecture.[19]. A combination of Gothic spire and modern skyscraper, the steel-frame, limestone-clad, 42-story structure is both the world's second tallest university building and Gothic-styled edifice.[20] The tower contain a half-acre Gothic hall supported only by its 52-foot (16 m) tall arches.[21] It is accompanied by the campus's other Gothic Revival structures by Klauder, including the Stephen Foster Memorial (1935–1937) and the French Gothic Heinz Memorial Chapel (1933–1938).

21st-century revival

A number of colleges and universities have commissioned major new buildings in the Collegiate Gothic style in recent years. These include Princeton University's Whitman College (Porphyrios Associates, 2007),and Benjamin Franklin College and Pauli Murray College (Robert A.M. Stern Architects, 2017) at Yale University.[22] The University of Southern California's USC Village[23] was created as an inexpensive post-modern nod to collegiate revival. (Harley Ellis Devereaux, 2017).

Architects of the Collegiate Gothic style


See also


  1. Hawthorne, Christopher. "College campuses are constructing buildings that look like they're straight out of Harry Potter's world". Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  2. Slipek, Edwin J., Jr., Ralph Adams Cram, The University of Richmond and the Gothic Style Today, Marsh Art Gallery, University of Richmond, 1997 p. 19
  3. Rev. Norman Nash designed the building. Architect Charles Bullfinch was asked to review the plans, and designed the steeple. Marjorie Warvelle Harbaugh, "Charles Bullfinch," The First Forty Years of Washington DC Architecture, (Lulu, 2013), p. 362.
  4. Daniel Coit Gilman, "The Library of Yale College," The University Quarterly (October 1860), p. 9.
  5. Kenneth A. Breisch, Henry Hobson Richardson and the Small Public Library in America, (MIT Press, 1997), p. 60.
  6. "Old Main". Knox College. Archived from the original on December 24, 2013. Retrieved June 11, 2015.
  7. Lewis, The Gothic Revival, p. 185.
  8. "Collegiate Gothic". Bryn Mawr Library.
  9. Paul Goldberger, "Architecture and New Haven", International Festival of Arts and Ideas, New Haven, June 24th, 2010
  10. Paul Goldberger, "The Sterling Library: A Reassessment", On the Rise: Architecture and Design in a Post Modern Age, (Penguin Books, 1985), pp. 269–71.
  11. William Harlan Hale, "Yale's Cathedral Orgy", The Nation (April 29, 1931), pp. 471–72.
  12. Bloomer, Kent C. (2000). The Nature of Ornament: Rhythm and Metamorphosis in Architecture. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 187–185. ISBN 9780393730364. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  13. bl326 (August 7, 2013). "John Russell Pope and the Unrealized Yale Campus Plan". Manuscripts and Archives Blog. Yale University Press. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  14. Truettner, Julia M. (31 December 2002). Aspirations for Excellence: Alexander Jackson Davis and the First Campus Plan for the University of Michigan, 1838. University of Michigan Press. p. 49. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  15. Golovin, Anne Castrodale. "Bridgeport's Gothic Ornament The Harral-Wheeler House" (PDF). Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Institution Press. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  16. Marter, ed., Joan M.; Regain, Melissa (2011). The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art, Volume 1. Oxford University Press. p. 362. Retrieved 16 March 2018.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  17. Ralph Adams Cram, "The Work of Messrs. Cope and Stewardson," The Architectural Record, vol. XVI, no. 5 (November 1904), pp. 414–15, 417.
  18. Bowman, John G. (1963), "Wanted: A Drawing", Unofficial Notes, Pittsburgh, pp. 48–50, OCLC 2572578
  19. Trump, James D. (1975-08-25). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form: Cathedral of Learning" (PDF). Pennsylvania's Historic Architecture & Archaeology. Retrieved 2009-10-08. "... in the literal sense of the word, Late Gothic Revival architecture culminated in the University of Pittsburgh's skyscraping Cathedral of Learning". Marcus Whiffen, architecture historian Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. "Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh". Retrieved 2012-12-07.
  21. Toker, Franklin (2009). Pittsburgh: A New Portrait. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 327. ISBN 0-8229-4371-9.
  22. Stern, Robert A. M.; Shapiro, Gideon Fink (2018). The New Residential Colleges at Yale : a Conversation Across Time. Paul Goldberger, Melissa DelVecchio, Graham S. Wyatt, Arianne Kouri. New York, New York: Monacelli. ISBN 9781580935043. OCLC 986817299.
  23. "USC Village". USC – University of Southern California. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  24. "Collegiate Gothic – Cope and Stewardson". Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections. 2001. Retrieved June 11, 2015.
  25. "Replace or Modernize? The Future of the District of Columbia's Endangered Old and Historic Public Schools: Eastern Senior High School" (PDF). 21st Century School Fund. May 2001. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  26. Venturi, Dan. "Fordham University Church". Fordham University. Retrieved December 15, 2013.
  27. Jacobs, Peter (October 11, 2013). "Tour Fordham University's Stunning Campus In The Bronx". Business Insider. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  28. "Melbourne High School". Victorian Heritage Directory. Heritage Council Victoria. 2009. Retrieved 2018-12-31.
  29. "Orange Key Virtual Tour: Blair Hall". Princeton University. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved June 11, 2015.
  30. "History of SJU | Saint Joseph's University". Retrieved 2017-03-25.
  31. "Virtual Tour of Penn's Campus: The Quadrangle". University of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on September 24, 2005. Retrieved June 11, 2015.


  • Bergin, T. G. Yale's Residential Colleges; the First Fifty Years. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.
  • Duke, Alex. Importing Oxbridge. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. ISBN 0300067615
  • Lewis, Michael J., The Gothic Revival (London: Thames & Johnson Ltd., 2002). ISBN 0-500-20359-8
  • Robinson, Deborah and Edmund P. Meade. "Traditional Becomes Modern: the Rise of Collegiate Gothic Architecture at American Universities." Conference paper presented at 'Second International Congress on Construction History', Queens' College, Cambridge University; 2006.
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