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Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, United States

Monday 15 Sep 2008

Seeing the light - SOM's stunning church

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17/09/08 KeesW, Hobart
What a beautiful building! Good to get away from stereotyped churches.


Rising from its base in Downtown Oakland SOM's Cathedral of Christ the light forms an admirable curved silhouette contrasting to the square blocks surrounding it 

Appearing as a sanctuary in its context as a holy building as well as for architecture, the wooden frame of the inner structure of the Cathedral stands like an upturned ark while the layered structure offers a contemporary sense of solace.

The 19th century St Francis de Sales Cathedral was damaged irreparably by the 1989 Lorna Prieta earthquake, but the new Cathedral building presides where this stood updating but retaining the religious message by stripping away the traditional iconography. The approachable result remains open to the region’s ever-changing multi-cultural makeup and to the future.

As its name suggests, the Cathedral draws on the tradition of light as a sacred phenomenon. Through its poetic introduction, indirect daylight ennobles modest materials—primarily wood, glass and concrete. With the exception of evening activities, the Cathedral is lit entirely by daylight to create an extraordinary level of luminosity.

The lightest ecological footprint was SOM’s core design objective. Through the innovative use of renewable materials, the 1500-seat Cathedral minimizes the use of energy and natural resources. The structure’s concrete makes use of industrial waste fly ash, a byproduct of coal production that requires less energy to produce than cement. An advanced version of the ancient Roman technique of thermal inertia maintains the interior climate with mass and radiant heat.

Douglas Fir, obtained through certified harvesting processes, is aesthetically pleasing, economically sound, and structurally forgiving - the wood’s surfaces add warmth while its elasticity allows for the bending and returning of shape during seismic activity. Through the use of advanced seismic techniques, including base isolation, the structure will withstand another 1,000-year earthquake.

Key Facts

Status Complete
Value 0(m€)
Were you involved in this scheme?
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill

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