The University Auditorium
Gainesville’s Very Own Notre Dame
The University Auditorium is located at 333 Newell Drive Gainesville, FL. Built in the early 1920’s the auditorium is an exquisite example of Collegiate Gothic style architecture. Designed by William Edwards, the building is patterned after both London’s 11th century Westminster Hall and the 19th century Central Lobby in the Houses of Parliament. The University Auditorium is extremely versatile serving as a chapel and assembly hall, while also functioning as a performing arts center. In 1953 the University Auditorium’s Century Tower was added in honor of the University of Florida’s centennial (Teague, Edward H. “Collegiate Gothic Style – UF BUILDS: The Architecture of the University of Florida.” Collegiate Gothic Style -UF BUILDS: The Architecture of the University of Florida. N.p., 31 Aug. 1999. Web. 22 Oct. 2016). The University Auditorium is part of the University of Florida Campus Historic District, which is included on the National Register of Historic Places.
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The University Auditorium contains various architectural features which characterize it as a Gothic style building. Exterior ornamentation of the building includes the presence of gargoyles and numerous large soaring spires that ascend upwards, emphasizing the verticality of the building (see fig.1). The entrances into the interior of the space are recessed and framed by pointed arches. On the interior, large pointed arch windows with delicate tracery surround the walls of the building and emit light into the auditorium. Along the wall is a large prominent stained glass window, characteristic to Gothic architecture. Overhead is a vaulted, wooden decorated hammer beam ceiling. Located at the end of each hammer beam is a gargoyle which represents the pursuit of academic, athletic and professional success (Historic Architecture Sourcebook. Edited by Cyril M. Harris. (New York: McGraw-Hill: 1977).In order to enhance acoustics, an acoustical cloud hangs eighty feet above the stage. The interior and exterior of the University Auditorium beautifully represent the key characteristics of Gothic architecture.
The Gothic style of design was prominent between 1132 – ca 1500. The Gothic style emerged from the Romanesque architectural style and emphasized verticality and light. New construction and architectural techniques including the creation of buttresses, the pointed arch and ribbed vaults, allowing for the dematerialization of walls through the incorporation of large stained glass windows, and the creation of tall soaring spaces. The Gothic cathedral physically represented the spiritual emotions felt by individuals rather than representing logic and reason (Cunningham, September 28, 2016). The Gothic style enabled architecture to be functional, while also being esthetic and beautiful.
Fig. 1. Prominent Spire on located University Auditorium, also observe tracery on windows.
One of the most significant contributions from Gothic architecture was the creation of the pointed arch. The significance of the pointed arch was not only practical, but also decorative. The pointed arch could span varying distances and could channel the weight of the rib vaults downward. This allowed for the equal distribution of the weight of heavy ceilings and made the pointed arch capable of supporting much more weight than previous columns and pillars. The pointed arch emphasized vertical height and added esthetic beauty to Gothic buildings (Cunningham, September 28, 2016). The use of the pointed arch is apparent throughout the architecture of the University of Auditorium. The used of the pointed arch can be seen in the buildings windows and doorways.
Decorated vaulted ceilings are another distinguishing feature of Gothic architecture. Vaulted ceilings came as a result of the establishment of the ribbed vault and pointed arch. The ribbed vault, made up of intersecting barrel vaults, reduced the weight of the ceiling vault and allowed for the elimination of thick, heavy walls. Because the pointed arch allowed for weight to be directed downwards, the walls were no longer depended on to support the ceiling. Gothic architects focused the weight of the roof along the ceilings ribs, flying buttresses, and down piers to the ground (Cunningham, September 28, 2016). Since the walls were no longer required to support the ceiling they could be built higher and thinner. Walls could now be used as decorative spaces and were filled with numerous large windows (Cunningham, September 28, 2016). The University Auditorium is filled with numerous large windows with delicate tracery allowing in great amounts of natural light not due to the same structural system, but merely for decorative and symbolic purposes. Gorgeous wooden vaulted ceilings are also a focal point of the auditorium and give it a sense of aesthetic beauty and grandeur (see fig. 2).
Fig. 2. University Auditorium Interior 1. Digital image. University Auditorium. Alachua County Visitors & Convention Bureau, n.d. Web.
The use of stained glass and tracery is also an identifying characteristic of Gothic design. The detailed stonework that separated stained glass windows called tracery became elaborate and ornate. The University Auditorium features a large pointed arch stained glass window with elaborate tracery which further emphasizes its Gothic design. These decorative window dividers exemplify the detailed decoration apparent in Gothic buildings (see fig. 3).
Fig. 3. Large pointed arch stained glass window with delicate tracery located on rear side of the auditorium.
One of the most distinguishable characteristics of Gothic architecture is the gargoyle. Gargoyles serve both a decorative and functional purpose acting both as an ornamental figure and as a spout to drain rainwater off the roof of buildings. Gargoyles can be seen as exterior ornamentation on the outside of the University Auditorium (see fig. 4). These gargoyles were also used to bait peasants into the church or cathedral. Gargoyles were often carved to represent a grotesque face or an evil creature to try and scare individuals into seeking safety inside of churches and cathedrals.
Fig. 4. Kilby, Rick. Gargoyle at the University Auditorium. Digital image. Old Florida. N.p., 3 Dec. 2011. Web.
Spires are a feature common to Gothic architecture. Spires allow for the verticality of the building to be expressed from the exterior. Originally, spires were used to denote the location of a Gothic church from a distance and announced its connection to heaven. As discussed in lecture, regional variations of Gothic architecture differed. Because of this spires were more prominent in some locations than others. At the Siene Cathedral located in Italy, soaring spires are lacking whereas at the Amiens Cathedral in France spires are abundant (Cunningham, September 28, 2016). The University Auditorium most closely resembles that of French Gothic architecture due to its emphasis on verticality, the presence of spires and use of the pointed arch.
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Neither the historical nor architectural features of Gothic style buildings are used in the context they were originally intended for in the University Auditorium. Although the University Auditorium hasn’t been altered in its physical state, it has altered the original function and use of gothic architecture. It manipulates Gothic architecture by not using it for its intended purpose, but rather using it to create a sense of aesthetic and viewing pleasure.
Gothic architecture advancements were innovative and practical in regards to the construction of buildings, but its use in the University Auditorium is merely for decorational purposes. Spires were intended to proclaim the location of a Gothic church from a distance and announced its connection to heaven. However, one could argue that the presence and use of spires on the University Auditorium denounces its presence as an important University of Florida landmark.
The University Auditorium has been a monumental building on the University of Florida Campus for numerous years, that has undergone little to no design change. Edward Hollis’ “The Secret Lives of Buildings”, describes the restoration of Notre Dame as an act that erased much of the building’s notable history and defining characteristics, altering it into a design that none of its original makers would have recognized. In his reading, Hollis suggests that our approach to design and architecture is misguided and leaves the reader to question if buildings should be approached as transient objects, capable of being formed and reformed, per time, place and story. The article left me questioning whether the University Auditorium will be altered or restored in years to come to keep up with changing design trends and styles. While it can be argued that buildings have their own expiration date, and that both needs and functions change over time, we should be cautious in approaching buildings as transient because it can damage a part of history.
The era of Gothic architecture completely changed the way in which buildings were viewed. Buildings now not only served a practical purpose, but began to have value and significance in their own right. Gothic architecture revolutionized the design and architectural engineering of buildings. The University Auditorium is Gainesville’s very own exquisite example of Gothic architecture
- Teague, Edward H. “Collegiate Gothic Style – UF BUILDS: The Architecture of the University
- of Florida.” The Architecture of the University of Florida. N.p., 31 Aug. 1999.
- Historic Architecture Sourcebook. Edited by Cyril M. Harris. New York: McGraw-Hill: 1977
- Hollis, Edward. The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Ruins of the Parthenon to the Vegas
- Strip in Thirteen Stories. New York: Metropolitan, 2009. Print.
- Cunningham, Erin. “Gothic.” Slide 18. 28 Sept. 2016.
- Cunningham, Erin. “Gothic.” Slide 15. 28 Sept. 2016.
- Cunningham, Erin. “Gothic.” Slide 16. 28 Sept. 2016.
- Cunningham, Erin. “Gothic.” Slide 17. 28 Sept. 2016.
- Cunningham, Erin. “Gothic.” Slide 21. 28 Sept. 2016.
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