Let there be (less) light...

Thursday 25 Sep 2014

Johnson Fain and Rios Clementi Hale Studios unveil plans to reinvent Philip Johnson's Crystal Cathedral in California

“Our mandate was to honour the essence and strength of the original architecture created for televangelist Robert Schuller and recognised as an important work of architecture by architect Philip Johnson, while accommodating the rich traditions and liturgy of the Catholic Church and embracing both in their common Christian faith,” says Scott Johnson, FAIA, architect for Christ Cathedral. 

“It has been a great challenge and opportunity to convert an open, all-glass evangelical church to serve the centuries-old sacraments, ritual processions and centrality of the Eucharist embodied in the Catholic faith.”

Originally completed in 1981, the Crystal Cathedral was designed by architect Philip Johnson, winner of the first ever Pritzker Prize. While the magnitude of the building was undeniable, the project has encountered issues with heat, glare and acoustics in light of its immense glass and steel form.

This week, the Diocese of Orange has announced that the cathedral in Garden Grove, California will be transformed into a new form - Christ Cathedral - following a year-long collaboration between Johnson Fain (architecture and interiors) and Rios Clementi Hale Studios (masterplanning and landscape).

Plans for the transformation, unveiled this week, will insert a new building volume within the existing 12-storey form, retaining the original structure designed by Philip Johnson. To combat the issues of glare and heat, the design team has digitally mapped the path of sun throughout the day and created a new ceiling system involving triangular metal panels.

These so-called ‘petals’ will cover the majority of the 10,000+ panes of glass that make up the current exterior of the Crystal Cathedral, angled in such a way that natural light and ventilation can be achieved at a pleasant rate.

A stone floor within the new building form will signify the earth, whilst a vaulted ceiling above will symbolise heaven. The layout will take a cruciform arrangement with the altar at the centre and the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament to the north.

Rios Clementi Hale Studios has created a landscape design that surrounds Christ Cathedral with a ring of flowering trees that offer beauty and shade and has transformed the 34-acre campus into a contemplative and welcome retreat for members and visitors. 

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