Launch Slideshow

Building the Modern Cathedral

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away—although sometimes in reverse order, as in the case of the Cathedral of Christ the Light now nearing completion in Oakland, Calif.

Building the Modern Cathedral

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away—although sometimes in reverse order, as in the case of the Cathedral of Christ the Light now nearing completion in Oakland, Calif.

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    SOM/Cesar Rubio

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    SOM/Cesar Rubio

    The cathedral's site on the shore of Lake Merritt is 16 feet lower than the surrounding city streets.

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    SOM

    The cathedral's site on the shore of Lake Merritt is 16 feet lower than the surrounding city streets. This allowed the architects to nestle programmatic requirements, such as office space, underneath a large public plaza, leaving an uncluttered site.

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    SOM

    The cathedral's site on the shore of Lake Merritt is 16 feet lower than the surrounding city streets. This allowed the architects to nestle programmatic requirements, such as office space, underneath a large public plaza, leaving an uncluttered site.

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    SOM

    Chapel Form One of the biggest concerns for the SOM team was to create a sense of luminosity inside the space. Their strategy: layering a glass curtain wall over a series of curved Douglas fir louvers, all anchored in a seismically sound, base-isolated concrete structure.

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    SOM/Cesar Rubio

    The interior space is defined by a curving, arcing wall of fixed wooden louvers, which give off a warm glow when illuminated by the sun.

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    SOM/Cesar Rubio

    The louvers are anchored to vertical ribs, which are in turn anchored to the concrete reliquary wall that frames the cathedral's base.

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    SOM/Cesar Rubio

    A fritted glass curtain wall forms the outer skin of the building along with the Alpha and Omega walls-the sculptural walls at either end of the space. High-performance glass was tested to make sure that it admitted enough light but didn't contribute to glare or heat gain.

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    SOM/Cesar Rubio

    Glass is installed in a framework of vertical wooden members that form the canted and curving exterior wall. These wooden posts are secured to the interior wooden frame by a series of very thin steel cables and supports.

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    INSIDE DETAIL Glass is installed in a framework of vertical wooden members that form the canted and curving exterior wall. These wooden posts are secured to the interior wooden frame by a series of very thin steel cables and supports.

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    SOM/Gerald Ratto

    The arrangement of the pews is circular, surrounding one half of the circular altar. The SOM team decided on this configuration specifically based on research suggested by retired SOM partner Walter Netsch.

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    SOM/Gerald Ratto

    The arrangement of the pews is circular, surrounding one half of the circular altar. The SOM team decided on this configuration specifically based on research suggested by retired SOM partner Walter Netsch.

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    SOM

    The sanctuary is flanked at both ends by sculptural walls: the Alpha Wall over the entrance, and the Omega Wall over the altar at the other end. Carefully engineered with the help of 3-D modeling programs to determine stresses on materials, the walls create a striking presence and allow light to enter the space unfettered.

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    ALPHA WALL Carefully engineered with the help of 3-D modeling programs to determine stresses on materials, the walls create a striking presence and allow light to enter the space unfettered.

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    Software The design team used a variety of programs to create the drawings and renderings for the project. Construction documents were created in AutoCAD ADT 3.3, otherwise known as version 2002, but for certain elements, such as the dynamic Alpha and Omega walls, the team turned to 3-D modeling program Form Z, version 4.0, to help determine angles and potential stresses. Structural models for the entire structure were created in SAP 2000. 3D StudioMax was used to create 3-D renderings of the building at all times of day, and Adobe's Illustrator and Photoshop, version CS, were used to create color site plans and elevations.

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    SOM

    Seismic Base Isolators To protect the building from future earthquakes on the surrounding web of fault lines, the building's cast concrete base rests on 34 seismic base isolators to help the building ride out any shocks. The individual base isolators are arranged in a matrix, with the load evenly distributed. SOM's in-house structural engineering team, led by director Mark Sarkisian, specified friction-pendulum base isolators, each one with a 4-foot-diameter steel bearing. This particular variety of base isolator employs a sliding system, with an interfacial material that slides across stainless steel.

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    SOM/Cesar Rubio

    Glue-lam Ribs The actual geometry of the interior space was based on more than just the desire for a certain volume; it was based also on necessity. The width and curve of the wood structure's vertical glue-lam beams was informed in part by the 110- foot-long-by-13-foot-wide bed of the flatbed trucks that could make it over the bridges and through the tunnels on the path between the wood's origin in Portland, Ore., and the Oakland building site. The width was based on the standard 1-1/2-inch-by-11-1/4-inch dimensions of the stock laminations used in glue-lam construction.

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    Omega Wall When the bishop voiced his desire to include a strong representational image of Christ in the building, Hartman wanted to make it integral to the architecture. As a guide, the church supplied a digital image of a carved stone relief at Chartres Cathedral. A team of architects, environmental graphic designers, and members of SOM's digital design group worked together to create an algorithm that sorted the pixels according to brightness. The image was tweaked to enhance its legibility before then being mapped onto the 3-D surface. In finished form, the backlit image will rise more than 50 feet high, composed of more than 90,000 holes, ranging in size from 4mm to 24mm, laser cut into the anodized aluminum panels.

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    SOM/Jane Lee

    Above the sanctuary hovers an oculus with a scrim of faceted acoustical panels. The panels help absorb sound in the cavernous interior and filter daylight from the skylight above.

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    OCULUS SECTION Acoustical panels are capped on the exterior by an articulated glass roof, hidden from ground view by stainless steel extensions on the perimeter.

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    SOM/JOHN BLAUSTEIN

    Panels were assembled just above ground level to ensure proper proportion and overlapping, as called for by the plan. Suspended en masse from tensioned cables, the whole oculus was then hoisted into place.

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    SOM/John Blaustein

    Panels were assembled just above ground level to ensure proper proportion and overlapping, as called for by the plan. Suspended en masse from tensioned cables, the whole oculus was then hoisted into place.

PROJECT Cathedral of Christ the Light
CLIENT Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland
DESIGN ARCHITECT Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, San Francisco—Craig Hartman (design partner); Gene Schnair (managing partner); Patrick Daly (senior design architect); Keith Boswell (technical director); Ray Kuca (project manager); Eric Keune, David Diamond, Henry Vlanin, Denise Hall Montgomery, Jane Lee, Chris Kimball, Christiana Kyrillou, Surjanto, Gary Rohrbacher, Elizabeth Valadez, Mariah Nielson, Peter Jackson, Lisa Finster, Ayumi Sugiyama, Doug Smith, Liang Wu, Katie Motchen (architecture project team); Tamara Dinsmore, Chanda Capelli, Carmen Carrasco, Suzanne Le Blanc (interiors project team); Lonny Israel, Alan Sinclair (environmental and liturgical graphics)
EXECUTIVE ARCHITECT Kendall/Heaton Associates, Houston
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, San Francisco—Mark Sarkisian, (director, structural engineering); Peter Lee (senior structural engineer); Eric Long (project structural engineer); Sarah Diegnan, Lindsay Hu, Jean-Pierre Chakar, Rupa Garai, Aaron Mazieka, Shea Bond, Ernest Vayl, Feliciano Racines (project team)
GENERAL CONTRACTOR Webcor Builders
CONSTRUCTION AND PROGRAM MANAGEMENT Conversion Management Associates
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Peter Walker and Partners
ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING The Engineering Enterprise
MECHANICAL ENGINEERING Taylor Engineering
COST $190 million
SIZE 224,000 square feet


TOOLBOX

Software
The design team used a variety of programs to create the drawings and renderings for the project. Construction documents were created in AutoCAD ADT 3.3, otherwise known as version 2002, but for certain elements, such as the dynamic Alpha and Omega walls, the team turned to 3-D modeling program Form Z, version 4.0, to help determine angles and potential stresses. Structural models for the entire structure were created in SAP 2000. 3D StudioMax was used to create 3-D renderings of the building at all times of day, and Adobe's Illustrator and Photoshop, version CS, were used to create color site plans and elevations.

Seismic Base Isolators
To protect the building from future earthquakes on the surrounding web of fault lines, the building's cast concrete base rests on 34 seismic base isolators to help the building ride out any shocks. The individual base isolators are arranged in a matrix, with the load evenly distributed. SOM's in-house structural engineering team, led by director Mark Sarkisian, specified friction-pendulum base isolators, each one with a 4-foot-diameter steel bearing. This particular variety of base isolator employs a sliding system, with an interfacial material that slides across stainless steel.

Glue-lam Ribs
The actual geometry of the interior space was based on more than just the desire for a certain volume; it was based also on necessity. The width and curve of the wood structure's vertical glue-lam beams was informed in part by the 110- foot-long-by-13-foot-wide bed of the flatbed trucks that could make it over the bridges and through the tunnels on the path between the wood's origin in Portland, Ore., and the Oakland building site. The width was based on the standard 1-1/2-inch-by-11-1/4-inch dimensions of the stock laminations used in glue-lam construction.

Omega Wall
When the bishop voiced his desire to include a strong representational image of Christ in the building, Hartman wanted to make it integral to the architecture. As a guide, the church supplied a digital image of a carved stone relief at Chartres Cathedral. A team of architects, environmental graphic designers, and members of SOM's digital design group worked together to create an algorithm that sorted the pixels according to brightness. The image was tweaked to enhance its legibility before then being mapped onto the 3-D surface. In finished form, the backlit image will rise more than 50 feet high, composed of more than 90,000 holes, ranging in size from 4mm to 24mm, laser cut into the anodized aluminum panels.