This morning, I woke to Savanah raising the window blinds and saying, “Wake up, we’re going to Hogwarts!” Only we didn’t go by train, we went by car, and Hogwarts isn’t in Scotland, it’s in New Haven.
Yale University is about 90 minutes outside New York City, in the city of New Haven, CT. It’s an institution that has been around since 1701, and is one of the most famous examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States. Its central campus is eye candy for Harry Potter enthusiasts who don’t have the luxury of dropping in to tour Oxford or Gloucester Cathedral. Our first stop of the day was Yale University Art Gallery which, coincidentally, has been my favorite art gallery since my first visit in 2016. It is made up of three buildings, all differing in color, material, and architectural style: the Louis Kahn building, Old Yale Art Gallery building, and Street Hall. From what a staff member explained to me, in recent years renovations were made so the three buildings would be united by passageways, making it one continuous structure. This leads to my only complaint for this museum- that the layout can be confusing, as some of the floors of the gallery aren’t continuous from one building to another. Staff members are stationed at every level though, so if you find yourself lost, they are there to help you.
Historically, this is one of the oldest college art museums in America. The gallery boasts artwork found around the globe, from Yoruba masks to portraits by Old Masters, to ancient Roman busts and modern “drip” paintings from abstract impressionists. The permanent collection is a well-rounded sampler for any visitor. Once inside the main entrance to the building, we cut through the Ancient Art room, passing antiquities like this brightly colored, glazed brick relief:
It was part of an enormous building campaign from King Nebuchadnezzar II. Long ago, it was just one of many lions in the Processional Way, a frieze that stretched from the Ishtar Gate to the heart of the city of Babylon. Alongside these lions were two other animals: aurochs and dragons. Magical creatures are littered through ancient art and history, if you know where to look.
We turned the corner and took in the oval staircase, which is almost entirely illuminated by natural light through tall lancet windows.
This spiral staircase connects the Old Yale Art Gallery building to Street Hall, which was not only the original fine arts education building at Yale, but the first collegiate art school in the United States. It is one of the most easily recognized buildings in New Haven, with its asymmetry, light and dark stonework, and its neo-Gothic features that defines much of Yale’s central campus.
Just a couple blocks away, we rushed inside the Sterling Memorial Library via it’s York Street entrance. We passed through library book detectors into a modern, sleek hallway of white, with glass walls and greyscale furnishing. Renovated space inside the library holds a learning center, complete with new car smell. As we moved through this hallway though, the LED lights receded and the walls changed to warmer tones, the floors to mankato stone. Temporarily, we left the muggle world and entered Harry’s truly wondrous world (or at least it FELT like it). The library’s nave is, simply put, a vision.
We peeked into reading rooms, the famed “Stacks”, and even a tunnel that leads to an underground library, but unfortunately we have no photos to share. Our visit landed during spring semester and out of respect for the students, we decided not to take any photos and disturb them. Our greatest find, however, was well out of way from these students hard-at-work. The path to Sterling’s north wing is accessed via a cloister that is plucked from Hogwarts itself.
This cloister hallway lets in natural light through tall, clear glass windows (better for reading than colored glass) and highly decorated from floor to ceiling. We admired the stained glass panels, by G. Owen Bonawit, which are meant to depict the school’s founding, Yale students, and the “range of learning in human history”. There are reportedly over 800 stained glass pieces in this library alone.
Not only is the student body depicted in portraits and stained glass, it is carved in stone. In this hallway alone, there are decorated corbels of twelve students, some asleep on their stack of books, some drinking beer, and some poking fun at any cognitive being who views the motifs.
Yale’s architecture achieves storytelling through design like none other. There is history and wit tucked into every corner. But not only is there levity, there is also sincerity; in it’s gothic arches, spires, turrets, crenelated parapets, and clock towers there is an eduring, heavy sense, which is precisely what filmmakers wanted for the Harry Potter series. Production designer Stuart Craig once explained in an interview that, “An early decision was not to make [Hogwarts] whimsical, not to make it a fairy-tale castle”, and that is was important the castle was grounded in reality. He simplified the school’s architecture as, “Medieval Gothic”, but it is a mixture of styles. Filming locations for Harry Potter were used in castles, cathedrals, and colleges all over the United Kingdom. Gothic, Gothic Revival, and Romanesque architecture of different, real-life buildings were used. Craig and other set architects responsible for bringing Hogwarts to life were able to pick and choose the best from these locations, giving our beloved characters the magical surroundings we’re now familiar with after eight films. It is a highly detailed world, blending fantasy and reality. We like to imagine a reality like Yale can be a part of that fantasy too.
Both the art gallery and library are open to the public, not just students. What’s more, admission to each is free of charge.
To visit the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University, you can check their accessibility and public hours of operation here.
See the works at Yale University Art Gallery for yourself, and check their directions and hours here.