Skidmore, Owings & Merrill — The Cathedral of Christ the Light serves as the new seat of the 500,000-parishioner-strong Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, Calif. The animating force of this 1,500-seat cathedral is light, a perfectly universal choice given the multicultural makeup of the diocese. Otherwise, the cathedral’s composition becomes its own overarching religious symbol.

The shape of the building’s footprint derives from the union of two interlocking circles, a “vesica piscis,” and represents the idea of congregation. The soaring structure itself is a kind of inverted double-hulled ark resting on an austere base of concrete. (Given that the diocese’s previous home was lost to the Loma Prieta earthquake, the base has been isolated to hold up during a once-in-a-millennium temblor.) Inside the nave, 26 curving Douglas fir ribs support horizontal fir louvers, framing the ocular roof and monumental end windows. The exterior is clad in a shell of green fritted-glass panels. Light diffuses in through triangular aluminum panels that baffle the petal-shaped windows at either end of the nave. And on the north end, the Omega Window has been perforated to reveal a 12th century representation of Christ copied from Chartres Cathedral in France.

Carlos Jimenez admired the cathedral’s poetic form and called it “beautifully detailed,” and Marion Weiss observed how “gravity-bound” the building appears. “It’s very symmetrical,” she added, “and, boy, has symmetry gone out of style.”

Project Credits

Client Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland—Bishop Allen H. Vigneron, Rev. Paul Minnihan (provost), John L. McDonnell, Jr. (project director) Architect, Structural Engineer, Interior Designer, Graphic and Product Designer Skidmore, Owings & Merrill—Craig Hartman (design partner); Gene Schnair (managing partner); Mark Sarkisian (structural engineering director); Keith Boswell (technical director), Raymond Kuca (project manager); Patrick Daly (senior design architect); David Diamond (technical coordinator); Peter Lee, Eric Long (senior structural engineers); Eric Keune, Lisa Gayle Finster, Christopher Kimball, Jane Lee, Christina Kyrillou, Elizabeth Valadez, Denise Hall Montgomery, Mariah Neilson, Peter Jackson, Surjanto Surjanto, Gary Rohrbacher, Ayumi Sugiyama, Liang Wu, Katie Motchen, Matthew Tierney, and Henry Vlanin (design architects); Aaron Mazeika, William Bond, Ernest Vayl, Feliciano Racines, Jean-Pierre Michel Chakar, Lindsay Hu, Rupa Garai, and Sarah Diegnan (structural engineers); Lonny Israel, Alan Sinclair (graphic and product designers); Douglas Smith (digital design coordinator); Tamara Dinsmore, Chanda Capelli, Susanne LeBlanc, Carmen Carrasco, and David Loo (interior design architects) Architect of Record Kendall/Heaton Associates Project Management Conversion Management Associates General Contractor Webcor Builders Mausoleum Contractor Oliver + Co. Landscape Architect Peter Walker and Partners Civil Engineer Korve Engineering Mechanical and Plumbing Engineer Taylor Engineering Electrical Engineer The Engineering Enterprise Lighting Claude R. Engle Lighting Consultants Acoustical Shen Milsom & Wilke Liturgical Consultant Brother William Woeger Theater Auerbach Pollack Friedlander Building Maintenance C.S. Caulkins Co. Organ Consultant Schoenstein & Co. Organ Construction Letourneau Pipe Organs Ltd. Construction Renderer Douglas Jamieson Security HMA Consulting Elevator Persohn/Hahn Associates Code Consultant Rolf Jensen & Associates Foodservice Cini-Little International Soils Treadwell & Rollo