All right…as promised, it’s time for one of Hogwarts’ most recognizable exterior design features to go from simple block-in to fully detailed model. I’m talking, of course, about the marble staircase tower, also referred to as the turris magnus (on the Marauder’s Map) or Dumbledore’s tower. You can go all the way back to Stuart Craig’s original concept sketch for the Hogwarts exterior, and this tower is already there. It’s the biggest tower, the one on the left. A few of the details are slightly different than the final design, but it’s pretty close:
This thing is massive. To give you a sense of scale, in the real-world environment envisioned by the design team, the top is over 600 feet above lake level. The main body of the tower is 92 feet wide. The spire alone is over 200 feet tall, with somewhere around 50 feet of that being the enormous copper finial at the top. For my fellow Disneyland fans…the entire freakin’ Matterhorn would fit inside the spire. Near the top, that smaller triple turret on the left is Dumbledore’s office; the castle’s moving staircases sit below, inside the cylindrical body of the tower. Mr. Craig has readily acknowledged in interviews that there are design choices here that simply couldn’t be built in real life. Fortunately, magic covers many architectural sins, and personally, I think the films are all the better for it. The turris magnus is featured prominently in the very first shots of Hogwarts and it’s part of what made such an impression on me in the early 2000s.
The first detail I wanted to capture was the dormers sitting along the sides of the spire. This is where the ridiculous, over-the-top dragon chase in Goblet of Fire really came in handy, because Harry and the Hungarian Horntail end up on these rooftops, providing closeup miniature shots and even closer shots of a partial set for Daniel Radcliffe to interact with. I decided to incorporate all these details into the dormers, even though the main 1:24 scale miniature probably wasn’t quite this detailed. (The closeup shots were accomplished with other bespoke miniatures on larger scales.)
Let’s also pull back for a wider shot, including some detail work on the finial and the beginnings of work on Dumbledore’s office:
(By the way, sorry for that other spire near the bottom middle, the one that has the copper patina discoloration near the top but no finial. Keeps showing up in renders. Eventually I’ll add the finial, I promise!)
Next came the stepped corbelling at the base of the turrets of Dumbledore’s office, and their own much smaller spires began to take shape as well. This was all slightly complicated by the fact that what few technical drawings I could find were not quite accurate, but I think I got pretty close in the end.
Here’s where I ran into a conundrum, though. As I mentioned, the closeup shots in GOF were accomplished with larger miniatures built just for those shots. As I looked more closely, I realized that the design of these turrets is a little different in these miniatures than in the main miniature – mainly in the design and placement of the windows. I couldn’t decide at first whether to go with the more detailed alternate design seen in GOF (and the theme park versions) or just go off of the main 1:24 model. The former was tempting at first, since the changes were clearly done to help the exterior match the interior sets designed for Chamber of Secrets. Speaking of which, as massive as this whole tower is, Dumbledore’s office is actually still smaller than the actual set. I thought that was pretty interesting. Below is a very simplified version of the interior set (in white) next to the exterior, using the real-world scale of the set and the intended imaginary scale of the exterior. (The vertical protrusions on the right are where the windows are; they didn’t build the sets with full-thickness walls, so they look like they’re sticking out.)
Anyway, the main model’s design won out in the end, and you can see the corresponding simple window designs have been added here. I’m technically still working on the POA version, and the redesigned exterior wasn’t created till GOF; when I get to GOF, I’m sure I’ll build the redesigned version too.
That makes the spire more or less complete, although I may go back in and add in details like roof flashing where Dumbledore’s turrets meet the main spire. For now, I moved on to the main body of the tower, adding corbels and windows:
From there, it was just a matter of building the larger windows that cover the rest of the tower below! In studying my 16,000-pixel-tall collage of reference images for this tower, I noticed that the spire has actually been mounted on the tower at a variety of angles over time, and there were again some discrepancies between the actual model and the technical drawings. This made it harder to figure out the radial spacing of the windows, but in the end, I did some measurements on my old photogrammetry of the castle and settled on there being 18 windows on each floor. Hopefully that’s correct, haha. In any case, here’s the complete tower!
As I continue around this corner of the castle, we’ll next be proceeding to the only other feature that’s as visually important as the marble staircase tower: the Great Hall!