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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.
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