Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Answer: What's this architecture all about?

No, it's not Hogwarts... 

P/C Dan

... the architecture IS fantastical--full of remarkable towers, arched entryways, stone carvings, stained glass, and what looks to be medieval cathedrals all around.  

Here are a couple other images that I snagged during my jog around campus.  

A tympanum over a doorway shows a university lecturer declaiming to sleeping and bored students.
This is a big hint that we're not at a religious site. I leave it to you to figure out which building 
this is on at Yale.

This is the hall where I spoke last week, Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, 
not far from the cemetery.   

I was visiting this university to give an invited lecture (always a happy event), and had a wonderful time visiting and trying to work out why were all of the buildings so... ancient in appearance?

The curiosity was killing me, so I spent a happy hour looking up the architectural backstory for this place. This is the basis of this week's SRS Challenge.  

1. Where am I?  (This shouldn't take you long.) 

This is Yale University.  

This shouldn't have taken you more than a few seconds.  A quick Reverse Image Search (right click on image, then "Search Google for this Image") reveals that this is Harkness Tower, a major building on the campus of Yale University. 

From the site, (an architectural / design / engineering firm) you can learn that this was constructed from 1917 to 1921 on a design by James Gamble Rodgers.  He based his work for this collegiate gothic structure on the fifteenth-century St. Botolph's Church in Boston, England.

All of the other images tell the same story--these are all images from Yale. 

2. What's the architectural style of this university?  How did it get to be so... distinctive?  

From that previous search we learned "collegiate gothic."  That sounds plausible, but let's do a more open-ended search to begin with: 

     [ Yale architecture style ] 

takes us quickly to an authoritative site, Yale's own visitor center where we find that the style is indeed called "Gothic Revival" or "collegiate Gothic."  

A few other articles (e.g., "How Gothic Architecture Took Over the American College Campus" in The Atlantic or the NYTimes "Yale's Architecture: A Walking Tour"  give slightly different versions of the tale.  It's all a US re-interpretation of traditional "gothic" style church and university buildings in Europe. 

In the main, it was an aspirational style.  Colleges in the US aspired to the look of Oxford or Cambridge (the one in the UK, not that other Cambridge in Massachusetts).  With the look comes the gravitas and panache, I suppose.  I hate to say it, but it's basically the fashion of the times.  

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.

Then, in 1894, Bryn Mawr commissioned a new building with its own interpretation of Gothic architecture, Pembroke Hall.  That was a major building that inspired a wave of Collegiate Gothic.  Soon, other colleges and universities followed suit.  The University of Chicago, the University of Pittsburgh, Princeton... the list goes on... and includes Yale.  

Woodrow Wilson, when president of Princeton, said about the revival of the ancient architectural style: “By the very simple device of building our new buildings in the Tudor Gothic style we seem to have added a thousand years to the history of Princeton, by merely putting those lines in our buildings which point every man’s imagination to the historical traditions of learning in the English-speaking race.” (See: "The Juggler of Notre Dame  and the Medievalizing of Modernity" 2018.)

If we build old-looking buildings, people will think the university has been around forever. It gives a Euro-cachet to the place.  

Wikipedia has a nice article on this trend.  It also points out that Yale has quite a collection of famous architects in its building collection. The first and last important buildings in the career of Louis I. Kahn face each other across Chapel Street in New Haven. The campus also has major works by Eero Saarinen (especially The Whale ice skating rink), Paul Rudolph, Philip Johnson and Edward Larrabee Barnes, James Gamble Rogers, John Russell Pope, and Carrere & Hastings. 

The campus is a veritable architectural wunderkammer, but one where everything is in use, with students, faculty, and staff moving in and out at all times.  Remarkable. 

3. Now that you know where I am, what's one really big connection between here and Silicon Valley?  (In particular, between this town and San Jose, California?  Do you know the way to San Jose?  

Remarkably, I did almost exactly the same search as Ramón suggested in the comments: 

     [New Haven CT AROUND(3) "San Jose" ] 

That is, look for mentions of New Haven within a 3-term radius of "San Jose."  Then, I just scanned down the page looking for possible connections, quickly skimming over all of the travel ads ("5 cheap ways to fly from New Have to San Jose") and lawyers and employment stuff before I spotted the connection in the snippet: 

The highlighting is mine, but it illustrates how the result practically leapt out at me.  

In that article we learn that Sarah Winchester (always called Sallie), the heir to the Winchester Repeating Rifle fortune, moved from New Haven, CT to San José, CA in 1885.  There, she bought a 45 acre ranch, complete with an 8-room, 2-story farmhouse.  She had developed a very hands-on approach to remodeling in New Haven, and continued her hobby in California, constantly remodeling the ranch house room-by-room to her own piecemeal design.  As a consequence, there's no real overall design, and some of the features are whimsical (doors that open onto a blank wall, stairways that lead nowhere).  

The legend of the place is that Sarah Winchester had learned from a mystic that she would die if she ever stopped remodeling, but there's little evidence of that... but quite a bit of evidence that she was charmingly eccentric and had a lot of money.  She also had a lot of time on her hands to deal with contractors.  Early 1900s San José was an out-of-the-way farmland... very very quiet.   

She died at the ranch house on September 5, 1922 of heart failure. She was buried at Alta Mesa Cemetery (about 1 mile from my house!) until she was transferred to the Evergreen Cemetery back in New Haven, Connecticut.  Sallie went from New Haven to San José and back...  

SearchResearch Lessons

1. When searching for connections, remember the AROUND operator.  In this case, AROUND(3) found the mention of one town (New Haven) close in proximity to another (San José).   We've talked about the skill of finding connections before (SRS Finding Connections Between People, SRS Finding Connections Between Fish)

2. Learn how to visually scan / skip over irrelevant content.  An important skill for SRSers is how to rapidly skim over long lists of hits and visually identify the hits that might be relevant for more investigation.  The goal of all our searching is to get to exactly the right result, but the reality is that it's tough to do that all the time.  Your ability to skim the results and decide where to dig in more deeply is an incredibly potent tool for you to have.  

Keep searching!  


  1. the carvers have been busy…
    the tedium of the law
    it just wouldn't be the same over the couch
    when they were awake
    see architectural details - Bulldog… very handsome
    "Architect James Gamble Rogers chose five symbolic stone figures to portray some of the participants of the legal process. A bulldog as a lawyer is one of these figures, located high atop the gable ends of the auditorium near the corner of High and Grove Street."
    2022 - is that Ben?



  3. "The Samsung threat" sound true? looking for ground truth, not ground-up truth - not even 80% Lean/20% Fat truth
    Magi - weak —
    "The company plans to initially release the features to a maximum of one million people. That number should progressively increase to 30 million by the end of the year. The features will be available exclusively in the United States."

    1. FWIW, this article sounds fairly accurate to me. Magi is a real project; there is a panic reaction to what's been going on; Bard is really working in the ways described. I don't know ground truth about Samsung, but even the thread of switching Samsung phones to Bing would cause exactly the reaction described in the article--extreme panic and pearl clutching.

    2. thanks, gtk - seems to me that Google is still looking for the horse in the barn when it is already long out of sight…
      the work now seems to be not to end up like a dairy cow in Dimmitt, Texas. Much of the current effort seems to be on the pr/marketing front; eg, the 60 Minutes piece - had views of the Bay View campus… looked impressive, but kinda emblematic of how the focus shifted. More hat than cattle, as the saying goes - more appearance, less substance.
      Bay View (Back View?):
      60 Minutes (are rotary phones poised for a comeback?):
      that place in Redmond still represents an 800 lb-er.
      (just my ill-informed, outsider view - a deer in the headlights… too many animal metaphors. Liked your use of "pearl clutching" - sorry for being long winded.)
      Magi - from Search Engine Land (too late, too reactiveo):
      Ozymandias or Phoenix (not AZ)? too much iron around?
      prediction is not true search

    3. আপনি কি মাংসের বস্তা এটি তৈরি করেন?
      এটি কি নতুন কোড ল্যাঙ্গুয়েজ হবে যে সমস্ত দুর্দান্ত বাচ্চারা TikTok এ ব্যবহার করে? নাকি আমি শুধু সময় মেরেছি?
      Linguistic Nightmare
      '…Solving/using intelligence to advance as needed and benefit machinanity' (new word) a UK/Alphabet thing - how does AI feel about borders? or mottoes?

  4. Boris (or Bart) Eldagsen
    seems like they should have known… (the hands) especially in the current environment
    still on Boris's phone camera roll
    just for fun… 'speciesist!' and an irony-AIcreator… may take another swing at it…