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Cathedral of Christ the Light

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

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Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland


  • Kendall/Heaton Associates
  • Structural Engineer: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
  • General Contractor: Webcor Builders
  • Construction Manager: Conversion Management Associates
  • Landscape Architect: Peter Walker and Partners
  • Electrical Engineer: The Engineering Enterprise
  • Mechanical Engineer: Taylor Engineering

Project Status


Year Completed



224,000 sq. feet

Construction Cost

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Project Description

The Cathedral of Christ the Light, in San Francisco, was built to replace the St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, which was weakened in the earthquake of 1989. Plans for the sanctuary reference two connecting spheres in the manner of the vesica pisces, interlocking circles that represent both an ancient sign of congregation and Christianity's basic symbol—the fish. Sheltering the lattice-like wooden shells from the elements are two sloping veils of high-performance glass that cradle the sanctuary like two cupped hands. Enclosing each end of the sanctuary is a faceted wall—the south Alpha Wall, which rises above the main entrance, and the north Omega Wall, which answers a request from the bishop by incorporating an image of Christ rendered in a sophisticated array of perforations.

The glue-laminated wood ribs that support both the sanctuary walls and the glass veils were an ideal choice for a building intended to survive for hundreds of years, in spite of its position between the Hayward Fault, which runs along the eastern edge of Oakland, and the San Andreas Fault, which runs through San Francisco across the bay and was responsible for the Loma Prieta quake. Wood's elasticity allows it to bend in the event of a seismic occurrence, but it will return to its original shape Also critical to extending the building's longevity was seismically isolating the sanctuary. A matrix of friction-pendulum base isolators rests beneath the sanctuary's thick concrete walls and floor slab. In the event of an earthquake, the 34 base isolators—each incorporating a 4-foot-diameter steel bearing—would allow the building to move back and forth much more gently than it would if it were fixed firmly to the ground.

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