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Pittsburgh's Nationality Rooms

The Cathedral of Learning of University of Pittsburgh is home to 29 ethnic inspired chambers.


The Nationality Rooms
The University of Pittsburgh’s 42-story Cathedral of Learning is currently home to 29 Nationality Rooms. They are located on the first and third floors of the Neo-Gothic tower. The rooms are gifts to the university by the ethnic communities of Pittsburgh which annually fund some 40 Summer Study Abroad Scholarships. The rooms represent nations in Europe, Scandinavia, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Tours are conducted year round, inviting the public to experience their ethnic identity and ancestral roots. The rooms serve as functioning classrooms: classrooms that teach, rooms that show the good things immigrants brought to America. As Wesley W. Posvar, former chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, said, “More than any other single asset, the Nationality Rooms epitomize the University of Pittsburgh character by melding culture, beauty and learning. In their diversity, the rooms preserve and honor our ethnic identities. Collectively, they symbolize our national unity.”
By E. Maxine Bruhns
Director of the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs at the University of Pittsburgh

The Swedish Room
The Swedish Room was dedicated in 1938, balancing it in the first group and community-inspired Nationality Rooms to occupy the Cathedral of Learning. Depicting 18th-century and folk styles in appearance, it's based upon a farmhouse. Much of this classroom resembles examples of Swedish architecture at the Skansen Museum, Stockholm, such as the whitewashed brick fireplace of Bollnäs Cottage, and paintings on the back wall and ceiling in the manner of Gustav Reuter (Hälsingland style). The fresco-secco back wall was painted by the prominent Swedish-American artist Ollie Nordmark, a published master of the old techniques of fresco painting. Whimsical touches to the allegorical figures upon the ceiling, Justice, Knowledge (St. Christina) and Archangel Gabriel add to the expert design of this popular room.

The Norwegian Room
The Norwegian Room was dedicated in 1948, and resembles the 18th-century farmhouse style. This large room features a span of centuries, with the architecture built to meet the needs of a professor and the students, while the carvings and books on display hearken back to more ancient eras. Painted surfaces in the professor’s area recall rosmaling designs on wooden surfaces throughout such homes, while the students’ area features a sloped ceiling; attached to the ceiling are sculptural renditions of a “midnight sun.” The professor’s chair is encrusted with carved Viking designs - wolves, a dragon and eagle heads. The rear wall bears a reproduction of a wedding coverlet with a narrative of the parable of preparedness from the Gospel of Matthew, the Five Wise and Five Foolish Virgins. Cookbooks, a history of Norway and volumes of Viking history are in the book cabinet.
By Michael P. Walter
Nationality Rooms Tour Coordinator


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