Gallery: SOM’s Stunning Cathedral of Christ the Light


Throughout time, cathedrals have signified some of the human race’s most awe-inspiring architectural endeavors. Continuing this trend, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill recently completed construction on their incredible Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. If you have been searching for religious -or architectural- inspiration, check out their awe-inspiring cathedral. The stunning structure makes beautiful use of glass, fly ash concrete, and fsc-certified wood, but we were most impressed by its incredible use of natural light. SOM is well known for its work on many other large projects such as offices, airports, islands, museums, and skyscrapers.

Craig Hartman, the lead architect for this project, says he “couldn’t imagine a more important commission than to design a cathedral.” Cathedrals of this magnitude are not often built, so to be chosen to build one among many other qualified architects is truly an honor. The Diocese’s main focus for the design was its use of daylighting. Hartman proposed that light would be the key “to create a contemporary design that was still evocative of the Church’s two millennium-old traditions.” To achieve this heavenly goal, Hartman consulted his retired SOM partner, Walter Netsch, who designed the 1950s Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy, which is also well known for its use of light.

SOM‘s Cathedral goes against the classical design of cathedrals and basilicas, which take the form of a cross with the altar placed at the intersection. Hartman wanted a more modern structure that embodied the community, so they placed the altar in the center surrounded by seating. Circular motifs play and important role in the design, especially the outside structure, which funnels up 12 stories towards a glass oculus roof. The skylight focuses light onto the center altar, allows views of the sky, and is also part of the unique passive cooling system. The system uses natural convection to cool air as it rises up through floor vents and out through openings in the oculus.

Additional sustainable features of the building include the extensive use of natural light to cut back on energy use during the day. The structure’s concrete was formed using fly ash and contributes thermal mass for heating and cooling. Finally the beautiful woodwork provides warmth to the building and came from FSC certified Douglas Fir. The Diocese asked that the Cathedral be built to stand the test of time for at least 300 years, and it is also seismically outfitted to withstand a significant earthquake.

The site for the Catholic Cathedral is the location of the old St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, which was irreparably damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The Cathedral of Christ the Light is home to the Oakland Diocese, the Bishop and over 500,000 parishioners. Construction began in 2005 and was just recently completed, with the Cathedral scheduled to be dedicated and consecrated on Thursday, September 25th in a private service. It will be open to the public for a special mass on Friday at 10 am, and regular weekend service will begin on Sunday.

+ Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Via World Architecture News


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  1. helava August 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    As a resident of Oakland who works near this building and sees it on a daily basis, it may be pretty on the inside, but it’s one of the single ugliest buildings in the area, and that’s including a lot of abandoned buildings in the same general area.

    There’s a reason that local residents have nicknamed it the church of the vajayjay, and it looks like a cheap piece of IKEA garbage from the outside due to the horrendous exterior treatment. The bare concrete and protruding spires on the top simply look unfinished, so it constantly looks like something someone abandoned half-complete.

    It really is one of Oakland’s ugliest buildings… which is sad, because in its half-completed state, with the interior wood exposed, it was stunning. Oh, well.

  2. Franzita March 19, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    i dont know why everybody is hating this church, i think its one of the most beautiful modern churches ever constructed.
    i would like to tell 518 east that if you find this church all of what you said it is, i suggest that you visit the church constructed by tadao ando, he too wanted a church to be spiritual and simple, but i guess it went too literal and THAT is a cold place to call a church….. and about colour …. why dou you nned to add more false colour when you have the wonderful daylight adding to its gory with the use of glass you have natural colour filtering in from all directions …..
    i guees all of yall should think twice before commenting or hating or even calling this holy site a WASTE.
    im not preacher or prophet, but the way the comments have been posted it seriously hurts to read, that our fellow christians have come to call their place of worship a a WASTE !
    JENNY, this church is not a waste of money, its a place for people likeyou to be educated on the wonders of our religion, on the faith that we bellieve in and to trust of doctrine, its a place for people like you to go and pray to, to be closer to our father, to help those in need, its a place for people like to to stop, think about what you are and repent.
    i think that all of yall are wrong to say such horrible things about this place….
    well in the past we did have religiouse architecture that was a lot of money that could be put to better use… but its because of those many churches that we can build and say that we belong.
    how many people today go forth to build reliqious places??
    hw many ??
    but if you put forth a competition or advert for any commercial project you have hundred of applications ….
    why cant we build more of these worship places???
    and when a place is for worship, however grand or simple ….. remmebr, GOD dwells there …. it is a HOLY SITE.

  3. 6 Absolutely Heavenly G... August 24, 2010 at 9:52 am

    […] SOM’s Stunning Cathedral of Christ the Light […]

  4. Sam Van Eman July 17, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Remarkable place. I’d love to see it in person. As far as “a waste” is concerned, I guess you could say the same about baseball stadiums and museums and so forth. There’s extravagant waste and then there’s extravagant beauty. Both cost a lot of money, but the latter appeals to me (and many others).

    I got this from the church’s website:

    “The ministries at the Cathedral and its adjacent campus foster unity through worship, teaching and evangelization, and works of service – especially to the poor and those at the margins of society. The Cathedral functions as a “palace of the poor,” serving those in need by appealing to volunteers and donors who support cultural and community projects from a platform that will exist for centuries. Free health and legal clinics give life to this mission.”

  5. ecoterrazzo June 23, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    What a terrible waste perfectly good resources.
    Let us look deeper into Sustainability and Spirituality shall we?
    The first step to sustainability is an honest, unbiased analysis of the situation? This means science, and not partial science with a religious agenda overtones. A truly objective look at nature and our role in it.
    Without a realistic view of nature, sustainability will not exist. When we think god made this for us, we will never appreciate it for itself and have the desire to work intimately with it. When we think it was all made for us, we will continue to consume it like we own it. If we think the earth is just a pit-stop for your soul, we will continue to abuse it and take advantage of it.
    How can we get a grip on preserving this magnificent biological system that we call \\\\\\\”life\\\\\\\”, that has evolved for millions of years, when a significant amount Americas think dinos and humans lived together, and reject biology to the teeth.?

    Will they teach in this building that god made nature for our own consumption? Then this building should NOT be called green! It does not sustain life, it does not contribute to taxes and our economy. It is a drain on our perspective of life, resources and energy. Profit/Loss analysis of this building is deplorable. Insane amounts of resource and energy for a delusional warm-fuzzy.. Not worth it!

    Please don\\\\\\\’t cut any more trees down for your delusions!!

    I give it 16 thumbs down. BOO (coming from an award winning green builder and green building materials manufacturer/distributor)

  6. 518 East 80 June 18, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    I wanted to add that the Cathedral is devoid of color, bleak and chilly. It would be a perfect gathering space for the U.N. General Assembly. Obviously, no traditional Catholic architects at SOM. Hartman missed the liturgical, eucharistic point altogether by creating a space with no focus. It is, rather, a community gathering spot, where everyone in the seating circle focuses on the people across the way. Wrong, wrong.

    Vigneron must have been complicit in this extremely expensive design mistake. He should have redone St. Frances de Sales for $9 million, instead of this place for $190 million.

  7. 518 East 80 May 6, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    It’s a disaster, it’s not Catholic, and it will be considered the last Catholic cathedral of the 20th century. The idea that community is the PRIMARY purpose of a Catholic cathedral is dead wrong, and contradicts the Church’s guidelines for the construction of new churches. Christ the Light is like evey other ill-considered, “modern,” ugly, dinner theatre, church in the round built in the last 50 years, causing the celebrant to have a hand-held microphone and twirl around like a game-show host. I think the trend is finally ending (see Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Houston) although it will take decades to completely die out.

  8. sieunmonica October 24, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    I wish I will design cathedral or small chapel someday.. this looks awesome~

  9. Geolio September 29, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Some additional photos for Curious minds.


  10. Geolio September 28, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    Excited to see it tomorrow when my office gets to tour it. My office is in the building across the street from it and I saw every beam go up. Amazing piece of architecture. With this much $$ poured into it, I would be disappointed if it was any less spectacular. I hope the interior is just as good.

  11. NaturallyEarth September 27, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    I love the new green architecture coming out. It’s so beautiful it doesn’t even need stained glass. I wonder how many churches will be re-doing their chapels.

  12. MulderDSM September 25, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    This is an amazing piece of architecture. I wrote a quick blurb about it on my site at:

  13. Jimmy Mac September 25, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    \”The site for the Catholic Cathedral is the location of the old St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, which was irreparably damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.\”

    Actually, not the case. The new Cathedral is located on the shores of Lake Merritt and about one half mile away from the old cathedral location.

  14. cherylen September 25, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I think that this structure is breathtaking. I don\’t find it at all gaudy. I think it is a monument to God. It might not be humble but neither are some earlier cathedrals which are now \”typical\” of Catholicism. I would rather see money go towards structures such as this than to bail out multi-billion dollar corporations from bankruptcy…

  15. Tabitha September 25, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    I can’t stop looking at this picture – it’s truly beautiful!
    tabitha at

  16. elstevedore September 25, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Some more pictures of the cathedral’s construction:

    Here in Oakland, we call it “The Space Egg”

  17. jennyg September 25, 2008 at 11:17 am

    I shudder to think of all the people that could benefit from all the millions of dollars WASTED on this monstrosity.
    Absolutely disgusting – gaudy – depressing…
    Oh Catholicism… will you ever learn? HUMBLE … be humble. THAT is following in the ways of your lord. Being humble..NOT erecting churches and cathedrals with money that could easily feed starving children – not only around the world – but in OAKLAND! Or maybe put some struggling families in Oakland in decent housing?

  18. Dilberth September 25, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Certainly this is one of the greatest monuments to insanity. Among the myths of history, Christianity prevails as the most cherished form of delusional behavior. Thor and Mithra: Get over it.

  19. Bridgette Steffen September 25, 2008 at 10:37 am

    The cathedral can hold up to 1350 people for a service. Other interesting facts:
    – 60,750 tons of concrete poured
    – 768 Douglas Fir horizontal louvers
    – 36 friction pendulum double-concave base isolators in which the entire Cathedral rests. These protect the Cathedral against earthquakes.
    – 1,300 crypts the cathedral mausoleum will hold

  20. maswik September 25, 2008 at 10:21 am

    What is the capacity and how does that compare to the size of the congregation (on an ordiary Sunday and on a High day)? From the pictures it does not look that big.

    It looks great sculpturally but I\\\’m not sure about religion in the round. It will give some unusual views of the priests during mass.

  21. ClusterTim September 25, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Absolutely amazing!

  22. Loki84 September 24, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    Unbelievable structure and, at least to me, in an unlikely place. I wasn’t sure about going against the traditional standards of cathedrals since I’ve seen many of the larger ones in Europe and each one is striking in it’s uniqueness, but also in their universality.

    This is an incredible design. I have to check it out next time I’m in Cali. Great article.

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