skip to main content

New Symbol Of Spiritual And Civic Renewal Designed By Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP


The Cathedral of Christ the Light opened on September 25 with a dedication mass led by The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron, Bishop of Oakland. Designed by Craig W. Hartman, FAIA, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, the new cathedral and its complement of facilities embody the Diocese of Oakland’s abiding commitment to the East Bay communities it serves. Built to stand for centuries, the cathedral replaces the Cathedral of Saint Francis de Sales—which was rendered unusable in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake—and provides a new spiritual home for the region’s 500,000 Catholics.

‘For East Bay Catholics, the Cathedral of Christ the Light becomes the new heart of the Diocese of Oakland. At the same time, with a very public presence in the heart of the city of Oakland, we envision programs of ministry and cathedral life building a community of communities within and around the Cathedral Center,’ said Bishop Vigneron. Set on a prominent, two-block site overlooking Oakland’s Lake Merritt, the 1350-seat cathedral is the centerpiece of a 224,000-square-foot complex that includes a mausoleum, conference center, administrative offices, bishop’s and clergy residences, bookstore, café, and community-serving ministries. The design gives special consideration to the Cathedral Center’s physical and cultural place within the city of Oakland. A landscaped public plaza, accessible from all directions, firmly links the center with the city’s commercial downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Within the cathedral, the experience of light and space, rather than traditional iconography, instills a deep sense of sacredness.

Hartman, design partner of SOM’s San Francisco office, explained: ‘In designing this symbol of spiritual and civic renewal, we sought to celebrate the liturgical traditions of the Catholic faith, yet embrace this particular moment in history when the global community—so beautifully reflected in Oakland’s multicultural spirit—and the challenges we face together are ever more present in our consciousness. The new cathedral employs the most elemental qualities of light, material, and form to create a sacred space that conveys a statement of welcome and inclusiveness within an ethos of sustainability.’

The Cathedral honors the devotion and craftsmanship that unifies the world’s great religious landmarks, using advanced technologies to achieve a luminous and evocative architecture with modest materials while minimizing the building’s ecological footprint. The thermal mass of the cathedral’s base—made of resource-conserving slag and fly-ash concrete—helps to efficiently heat and cool the occupied, lower strata of the interior volume. Rising above, sustainably harvested Douglas fir ribs and louvers add warmth while providing protective structural elasticity. An enclosure of frit-coated, translucent, and clear low-E glass modulates daylight and heat gain within and captures the natural shifting of light throughout the day. (Artificial lighting is only needed at night.) Finally, an advanced structural system, which includes base isolation, is designed to withstand a 1,000-year earthquake, preserving the cathedral for centuries.

Behind the altar, the Omega Window incorporates one of the cathedral’s most dramatic elements: a reinterpretation of a 12th-century depiction of Christ rendered in anodized aluminum panels and 94,000 pixel-like perforations using a custom-programmed digital process. In keeping with the cathedral’s elemental nature, the striking presence of the 58-foot-tall image relies simply on the play of light penetrating through the different sized perforations.

In addition to serving as the design architect and structural engineer of record, SOM’s multidisciplinary design work encompassed urban design, interior design, environmental graphic design, and product design for the Cathedral Center. Other lead team members include Peter Walker and Partners, landscape architects, Berkeley, California; Kendall/Heaton Associates, architect of record, Houston; Taylor Engineering, MEP engineers, Alameda, California; Claude R. Engle, lighting consultant, Chevy Chase, Maryland; Conversion Management Associates, project management, San Francisco; and Webcor Builders, general contractor, San Mateo, California.

Public tours of the Cathedral of Christ the Light will begin on October 1. For more information visit

About the Diocese of Oakland
The Oakland Diocese is home to more than 500,000 Catholics of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, representing 22 percent of the region’s total population. This number is projected to grow to 600,000 by 2010. Mass is celebrated in 13 languages throughout the diocese. Catholic organizations within the diocese educate over 25,000 students and provide food, shelter, medical care, and other social services free of charge to over 400,000 people of all faiths each year.

About SOM
Founded in 1936, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP is a global multidisciplinary practice providing architecture, engineering, planning, interior design, and graphic design services to a broad array of public and private-sector clients. The firm’s longstanding leadership in design and building technology has been honored with more than 850 awards for quality, innovation, and management. The American Institute of Architects has recognized SOM twice with its highest honor, the Architecture Firm Award—in 1962 and again in 1996. The firm maintains offices in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, London, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

About Design Partner Craig W. Hartman
Design Partner Craig W. Hartman, FAIA is the recipient of more than 75 design awards including five National AIA Honor Awards. In 2001, he became the youngest recipient of the Maybeck Award, an award presented periodically by the AIA California Council in recognition of an individual’s “lifetime achievement in architectural design.” The International Terminal at San Francisco International Airport is counted among his best-known Bay Area projects. In addition to the Cathedral of Christ the Light, two other projects of Craig’s opening in 2008 include the new U.S. Embassy Complex in Beijing and the Northwest Science Building at Harvard University.

Published with permission of ArchiCentral.

Do you like this post?

yes: 133     no: 128



logo © 2007 4-INDUSTRY, s.r.o. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy –  Terms of Service