The Architecture of Hogwarts Castle – Part Two

Anyone who has children, has seen the Harry Potter films, or read the books, should be familiar with Hogwarts Castle, home of the fictional “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”.  Even if you haven’t, it’s still a sight to see if you like cool architecture and castles on the whimsical side.  In our last post we talked about the Architecture of Hogwarts Castle and its influences, including Durham Cathedral, the City of Edinburgh (and its castle), and Gloucester Cathedral.  I’m going to continue that here, and will again include associated Harry Potter filming locations.

Hogwarts Castle Architecture

Hogwarts Castle – rendering by Hendricks Architecture

I should point out that I’ve always been drawn to castles (and cathedrals), along with their architecture and history, which, luck has it, the Harry Potter films draw from (with some creative touches). No residence is more formidable than a stone-built castle  that can withstand the elements for hundreds of years, and sometimes thousands of years when well kept.  Some of the most formidable, in my opinion, are located in Western Europe, and I’ve been lucky enough to to tour many of these.

Before filming began on the Harry Potter series, production designer Stuart Craig was given the enviable job of designing the perfect castle to mimic J.K. Rowling’s vision of Hogwarts in the previous books, and the ones not yet written.  The finished product was a castle model scaled down to the size of a small house, and was used in the films for every imaginable shot showing Hogwarts (when not able to film at actual locations, such as Alnwick Castle in our previous post).  I visited the Hogwarts castle model and studied the drawing details on two different occasions.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey was one of several imposing British medieval cathedrals that Craig and his team studied before designing Hogwarts Castle.  Located in London, the English and British Kings and Queens have been crowned here since 1066.  Westminster Abbey has also been the location of sixteen royal weddings, and is the burial place of some of the most famous people of all time.

Westminster Abbey inspired the Architecture of Hogwarts Castle

Westminster Abbey helped inspire the architecture of Hogwarts Castle

A church has been at the site since the 7th century, according to tradition.  Around 1050 a remodel and addition began (see Old World Architecture: Doors of England for Britain’s oldest door, part of the older structure).  In 1245, on the orders of Henry III, the current abbey was added onto extensively in the Gothic style,  which is defined by its pointed arches, vaulted roofs, buttresses, large windows, and spires.

Architecture of Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey’s north entrance. The facade above the door has statues of 20th century martyrs, including Martin Luther King, fifth from the left.

Henry VIII assumed control of the abbey (and granted it the status of cathedral) in 1540, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in order to prevent it from being destroyed.  This was very convenient for him, since it was less than a half mile from his main home at the Palace of Whitehall.

The Abbey’s two western towers were built between 1722 and 1745, in the Gothic Revival style, which was based off the Gothic style, and included finials, arched windows, lancet windows, and label stops (hoodmolds over the arched windows to draw water out to the sides).

Hogwarts Castle Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey in London has some resemblances to Hogwarts Castle, except for the tourists.

If you ever make it to London, Westminster Abbey is a “must see”, and not only for the architecture.  The abbey is adorned with ornate tombs of some of the most famous British people in history.  Queen Elizabeth, numerous other kings and queens, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and George Frideric Handel are among those buried there.  William Shakespeare, Sir Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, Alec Guinness (probably best known as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars films), and Martin Luther King Jr. (who of course was not British) are among those with statues or memorials.

Westminster Abbey's North Entrance has some Hogwarts elements

The North Entrance of Westminster Abbey

Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall and its large timber trusses were used as inspiration in designing Hogwarts’ Great Dining Hall, the majestic hall which figures prominently in the Harry Potter films.  Erected in 1097, Westminster Hall was at the time the largest hall in Europe.

Hogwarts Great Dining Hall Ceiling

The ceiling trusses in Hogwarts Great Hall (above), were inspired by the trusses in Westminster Hall (below).

Redesigned in 1393 with some very large oak hammerbeam timber trusses, Westminster Hall currently has the largest clearspan medieval roof in England.

Westminster Hall inspired Hogwarts Great Dining Hall ceiling trusses

The Great Hall at Hogwarts was inspired by Westminster Hall in London.

The above rendering is a Wikipedia Creative Commons 19th century drawing of the interior of Westminster Hall.  I took the family to London last year, but we were unable to make it inside the hall because of a function. Below is a photo I took from the south of the exterior.

Westminster Hall inspired the Great Hall of Hogwarts Castle

Hogwarts Great Hall was inspired partly by Westminster Hall.  The entrance is located just beyond the big arched window (of St. Stephens Porch), which you can see the top of in the previous drawing.

Westminster Hall is the oldest existing part of the Palace of Westminster, which was once the primary residence of the Kings of England until a fire destroyed most of it in 1512, and again in 1834. Architect Charles Barry designed the latest rendition in the Perpendicular Gothic Revival style.  This style emphasized vertical lines, as well as large windows with elaborate tracery, and fan vaulting.

The Architecture of the Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster, as seen from the London Eye. Westminster Abbey is on right.

The Palace of Westminster is now the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  Above is a photo I took of the Palace of Westminster from the London Eye.  Westminster Hall is located under the dark grey roof to the left of Big Ben, the famous clock on Elizabeth Tower.  By the way, the London Eye is Europe’s tallest ferris wheel, and gives you great views of London, as far as the 2012 Olympic Stadium to the northeast, and Wembley Stadium to the northwest.

The University of Oxford

For further inspiration in the design of Hogwarts, the filmmakers studied the architecture of Oxford, the oldest university in Britain.  Several locations at the University of Oxford were used as Hogwarts interiors in the Harry Potter films, as well as a few exteriors.

The Museum of Oxford Architecture

The University of Oxford has a millennium of architectural styles. Here’s the Museum of Oxford

Oxford is located about 50 miles west of London.  It was established around the year 1096, making it the oldest English speaking university in the world.  Some famous graduates include J.R.R. Tolkien (Hobbit, Lord of the Rings), Lewis Carroll and Stephen Hawking, along with several Prime Ministers, most recently Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron.  Believe it or not, Hugh Grant, Dudley Moore and Kris Kristofferson were also among those graduating from Oxford.

Emma Watson (Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films), was raised in Oxfordshire, and is an honorary Oxford Fellow.  Having been cast for the role when she was nine, she didn’t have much use for a university degree back then.

Incidentally, J.K. Rowling took the entrance exams to Oxford, but was not accepted.  Let that be a lesson, in that it is very rare to find success without some setbacks along the way.   It may also have influenced Ms. Rowling more than anything, with great Dumbledore quotes such as, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

The architecture of Oxford and Hogwarts

The University of Oxford’s architecture had a big influence on the architecture of Hogwarts Castle and other structures in the Harry Potter films.

Being in existence for almost a thousand years, there are a wide variety of architectural styles at Oxford.  As a matter of fact, Oxford contains examples of EVERY architectural style in England’s history since the Anglo-Saxon period.

I don’t want to get too far off the Hogwarts Castle tangent, but as an example, shown below are Oxford’s Saxon Tower on the left, and 27 Cornmarket Street on the right.  The Saxon Tower dates back to 1040, before the Anglo-Saxons were conquered by the Normans in 1066, and is part of a church called St. Michael at the North Gate.  It is the official City Church of Oxford.  It’s simple, as Anglo-Saxon architecture was, but it’s almost a thousand years old! Incidentally, for a small fee you can climb the steps to the top for some good views of Oxford.

Oxford Architecture on Cornmarket Street

Oxford’s Saxon Tower on the left, and 27 Cornmarket Street on the right

The building at 27 Cornmarket Street is just across Ship Street from the Saxon Tower.  Dating back to the late fourteenth century, it is a great example of the half-timber framed architecture that was owned by the wealthy, but later became more widespread into the Shakespearean times of the sixteenth century and early seventeenth.  This was either originally an Inn or a home owned by a wealthy merchant, who lived on the top floors and had their business on the lower level.

In the half-timbered style, many of the top floors hang out over each of the floors below.  This was one of their methods of waterproofing, as it allowed water to run off the upper stories, rather than soaking back into the wall.  They didn’t have waterproof membranes back then.

For the Harry Potter fans, the half-timbered style is the style of architecture in Godric’s Hollow, where Voldemort was first defeated, and where Harry returns to visit his parent’s graves.

Oxford storybook home

A storybook home in Oxford

Oxford has the biggest smorgasbord of architecture I’ve ever seen in one area.  The storybook cottage shown above is likely a home once owned by an employee of the university, and possibly still is.

Christ Church College

The University of Oxford has thirty-eight different colleges.  Christ Church College was designed in the Perpendicular Gothic Style, the same style as the Palace of Westminster (described above).  Christ Church’s dining hall was another inspiration for the Great Hall at Hogwarts Castle (along with Westminster Hall described above).  It’s a little cozier than Hogwart’s Great Hall, in that the rows of tables are only three wide, versus four wide for the four houses (Gryffindor,  Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin) in the films.

Hogwarts Castle Dining Hall Architecture Oxford

Hogwart’s Great Hall was partially inspired by Oxford’s Christ Church

In The Philosopher’s Stone (the first film), a staircase in one of the many buildings of Christ Church College leads the students up to the main chamber, where Professor McGonagall stands waiting for them, before entering the Great Hall.

Hogwarts Castle Staircase

A staircase in Christ Church College is used as the one leading up to Hogwart’s Great Hall

Bodleian Library

Oxford’s Bodleian Library is another example of the Perpendicular Gothic Style.  Duke Humphrey’s Library (built 1450-1480 and partially remodeled in the 16th and 17th centuries) is the oldest reading room in Bodleian Library, and was the location of the Hogwarts Castle Library.

Hogwarts Castle Library at Bodleian Oxford

Oxford’s Duke Humphrey’s Library at the Bodleian was used as the library at Hogwarts Castle

On the ground floor of the Bodleian Library is Oxford’s Divinity School (1427-1483).  With its elaborate fan vaults and large windows, the Divinity School was used as Hogwarts’ music room, where Professor McGonagall taught the students how to dance.  It was also used as the infirmary, the school hospital where Harry awakens at the end of the first film, The Philosopher’s Stone, and where Ron stays after being poisoned in the sixth film,  The Half-Blood Prince.

Hogwarts Castle Hospital and Music Room

Oxford’s Divinity School was used as the Hogwarts hospital wing and the music room

New College

The Cloisters at Oxford’s New College were the location where Draco Malfoy attempts to attack Harry, but is intercepted by Alastar “Mad Eye” Moody, who turns Draco into a ferret.  Moody is then scolded by Professor McGonagall.  This occurred in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Other scenes were filmed of the students walking and meeting in the cloisters.

Hogwarts Castle cloisters at Oxford's New College

The cloisters at Oxford’s New College were used as one of the courtyards of Hogwarts Castle. Draco Malfoy was turned into a ferret in the yard here.

There are other structures that have influenced the architecture of Hogwarts and other elements in the Harry Potter world, but for the sake of this getting too long, and me needing to get back to design work, I’ll continue this later.  Is there anything specific you would like to see?  Feel free to also shoot me questions.

John Hendricks, AIA Architect

Hendricks Architecture has designed everything from small mountain cabins and beach houses, to expansive mountain lodges and estates.  We’re always open to designing castles and cathedrals as well.

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The Architecture of Hogwarts Castle

I’ve always been fascinated with the architecture of Hogwarts Castle.  For those not in the know, “The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” is a fictional British school of magic, and is the primary setting in the Harry Potter films.  The huge structure is an architectural wonder, even though it was never built, except in scaled down models and theme parks.

Hogwarts Castle was originally imagined by J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books (yes, the books came before the movies), and designed by production designer Stuart Craig and his team.  All of them drew inspiration from various locations in Great Britain for the castle interiors and exteriors.

Hogwarts Castle by Hendricks Architecture

Hogwarts Castle – rendering by Hendricks Architecture

The style of Hogwarts has been called Medieval Gothic, but in actuality it is a mixture of several styles, including Norman Romanesque, Gothic and Gothic Revival.

In this post, I’m going to go over the places that were inspirations for Hogwarts Castle and/or were used as Hogwarts filming locations.  The large majority of these I’ve been able to visit.  Last summer I went with my wife and our three children to Great Britain, in search of these locations.

In actuality, Annie and I were very excited to see the history and architecture of London (among other things), and the rest of the Old-World country.  However, we didn’t want to bore our kids to death.  As they are all big Harry Potter fans (having read all of the books and seen the films), we looked up Harry Potter filming locations and added them to the itinerary.  Many of these locations turned out to also be historical architecture, so it worked out well for all of us.

Durham Cathedral
In the Harry Potter world, Hogwarts has existed for over a thousand years, so the designers wanted it to look like it’s been there awhile.  There is no greater influence on Hogwarts than the castles and cathedrals in the United Kingdom. Probably the one location which inspired the production team more than any other was Durham Cathedral.  The design team mentioned that the cathedral was used as the basis for everything to the right of the viaduct.  In fact the twin square towers of Hogwarts are almost an exact replica of this stone structure, except for some added storybook exaggeration, including tall, pointy spires added to the tops.

Durham Cathedral Architecture inspired Hogwarts Bell Towers

Durham Cathedral’s twin square towers. The Bell Towers at Hogwarts are nearly exact replicas (minus the spires).

The cathedral is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman Architecture, which is England’s version of the Romanesque style. Major elements of this style include:

  • Massive semi-circular arches over windows and doorways
  • Arched cloisters (semi-open covered walkways around quadrangles)
  • Vaulted ceilings
  • Bell towers

Before I go too far, I’m adding in a sketch (which was the base of our Hogwarts color rendering above) pointing out some of these architectural elements, as well as other elements still to come.

Hogwarts Castle architectural terms and spaces

Hogwarts Castle – Some Architectural Terms and Spaces

I should also mention that the element labeled “Tower” is actually the “Grand Staircase Tower”. Something my daughter pointed out to me.

The Romanesque style began in Europe somewhere around the 8th century, and came to England through the Norman nobles and bishops in the 11th century. The Norman style was known to have more massive proportions than the Romanesque in other regions. It developed in the latter part of the 12th century into the Gothic style, where the arches became pointed.

Durham Cathedral, along with Durham Castle, were both built as an intimidating projection of the new Norman king’s (William the Conqueror’s) power. Both the cathedral and castle are strategically located in a defensive position on a high promontory above the City of Durham, in NE England. The River Wear flows almost completely around them.

Durham Cathedral Cloisters used in Harry Potter films as Hogwarts backdrops

Durham Cathedral’s cloisters, seen here on the first level from the courtyard, were used in several Harry Potter scenes.

Construction began on the Cathedral in 1093 and was completed in 1140. Key components which were later used at Hogwarts Castle include ribbed vaults, pointed arches and flying buttresses.  Interestingly, though Durham Cathedral is known largely as a Norman Romanesque design, those features appeared in the new Gothic architecture in Northern France a few decades later (in fact the ribbed vaults at Durham are the earliest on record).

This is most likely because of the Norman stonemasons who built the cathedral, and then passed it along to such structures as Chartres Cathedral in France, which was built from 1194 to 1250. The features were also new structural engineering feats, enabling the buildings to go taller, more elaborate and complicated, and allowing larger windows. Wizard’s magic in those days. 😉

Cloisters at Durham Cathedral and Hogwarts Castle

The cloisters at Durham Cathedral were also used as cloisters at Hogwarts

Durham Cathedral was used as a backdrop for both exterior and interior scenes in the first two Harry Potter films. In the first, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry walks with Hedwig, his white owl, through the cloisters of the cathedral. Ron Weasley also vomited up a slug here in the second film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The cathedral’s Chapter House was used as Professor McGonagall’s classroom.

The one thing I regret is not seeing Durham Cathedral up close.  I’d like to give a big thanks to Les Bessant for allowing me to use his cathedral photos.  We were running late on the way to our kid’s broomstick training classes at Alnwick so we didn’t have time to make it up there.

Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle, located about an hour’s drive north of Durham Cathedral, was used as a backdrop where the broomstick flying and Quidditch lessons were filmed, as well as where the Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia crash lands into the Whomping Willow.

Hogwarts Castle Alnwick

Alnwick Castle was used as a Hogwarts Castle backdrop in several Harry Potter scenes.

The Castle, like Durham Cathedral, was also built following the Norman Conquest. It sits prominently between the River Aln (flowing on the north side of the castle), and a deep ravine to the southeast. Construction began in 1096, though it was largely rebuilt and remodeled throughout the centuries, as several wars played out and the castle passed through many different hands.

Alnwick Castle Exteriors used as Hogwarts

Alnwick Castle

The castle seems to have been influenced by Durham’s Cathedral and Castle, starting in the Norman Romanesque style, then adding Gothic elements, and later Gothic Revival.  As with the Gothic architecture of other parts of Europe, English Gothic is defined by its pointed arches, vaulted roofs, buttresses, large windows, and spires.

Alnwick Castle Isometric Map

An Isometric Map of Alnwick Castle

Today, Alnwick Castle still gives classes in Wizardry, including broomstick flying lessons.

Alnwick Hogwarts Castle Broomstick Flying Lessons

Basic Quidditch Graduates

Here’s my kids after a successful class. Now I don’t have to worry about buying cars for them.

If you ever make it to Alnwick, I strongly recommend checking out the Alnwick Treehouse, and making dinner reservations at the Treehouse Restaurant.  It’s a fun experience for everyone, whether you have kids and/or still have any inner child left in you.

I believe no city had more influence on the design of Hogwarts than Edinburgh, Scotland.  J.K. Rowling moved here in the midst of writing the first few chapters of what would become Harry Potter.

Edinburgh Hogwarts Castle Architecture

Edinburgh had a big influence on J.K. Rowling’s vision of Hogwarts and other Harry Potter architecture

From the Palace of Holyroodhouse (one of the Queen’s residences), up to Edinburgh Castle, which towers above the town on a rocky promontory, the Old Town of Edinburgh has a magical feel, with exaggerated elements, mainly in the Scottish Baronial style, which incorporates components of the Gothic Revival style.

Hogwarts Castle Architecture of Tollbooth Tavern in Edinburgh

The Tollbooth Tavern in Edinburgh – I actually drove through the opening on the lower right in a minivan, with inches to spare, in an effort to get to our apartment, not realizing we could have driven there from a much wider street.

The Edinburgh Scottish Baronial elements which likely most influenced Rowling, and later the designer of Hogwarts, were the features of Medieval castles and the chateaux (manor houses) of the French Renaissance, and included:

  • Towers adorned with small turrets, often pointed
  • Crenelated battlements – parapets with rectangular gaps, for firing arrows
  • Machicolations – floor openings at the bottom of tower corbels, used to drop stones and other objects on attackers (Ouch)
  • Lancet windows – tall, skinny windows with pointed arches at the top
  • Finials – decorative features atop towers and spires
Edinburgh Cockburn Street Hogwarts Castle Architecture

Some Hogwarts inspired architecture on Cockburn Street

Edinburgh Castle towers above the city on the plug of an extinct volcano. Just the sheer presence of it must have been an inspiration to Rowling for the image of Hogwarts. It was built and remodeled in various styles throughout the years. The earliest found settlements go back to at least the early Iron Age. The oldest surviving castle structure is St. Margaret’s Chapel, built in the 12th century.

Edinburgh Castle Elevation similar to Hogwarts

Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline above Edinburgh, and provided inspiration for Hogwarts Castle. Here is a drawing of a proposed addition and restoration of the southwest elevation.

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle in Scotland is another of the castles said to inspire Hogwarts, and like Edinburgh Castle, mainly for its towering location above the landscape. It sits atop Castle Hill, is surrounded by cliffs on three sides, and dates back to at least the early 12th century.

Stirling Castle inspired Hogwarts

Stirling Castle sits prominently atop Castle Hill, above the town of Stirling, Scotland

Gloucester Cathedral
In the first, second and sixth Harry Potter films, the corridors leading to Gryffindor House were filmed in the cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral.  Moaning Myrtle, Nearly Headless Nick, and a woman in a painting asking for a password were seen here.  This is also where Harry and Ron hid from a troll.

These same cloisters are the earliest examples of fan-vaulting in the world.

Hogwarts cloisters architecture Gloucester Cathedral

The cloisters in Gloucester Cathedral were used in several scenes in the Harry Potter films

Built as an abbey church (and later dissolved by Henry VIII in the Dissolution of the Monasteries), construction began here in 1089 in the Norman Romanesque style. Later additions were in every style of Gothic architecture, and include the largest medieval window in the world.

Continued on: The Architecture of Hogwarts Castle Part 2


John Hendricks, AIA Architect

Hendricks Architecture designs mainly custom residences, from small beach houses to luxury waterfront mountain homes, but are always open to designing castles, cathedrals and other structures.

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