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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 23, 2005VOL. 43, NO. 11Oakland, CA

Final Cathedral design reveals dramatic use of wood, glass, light

Timed to coincide with the May 21 groundbreaking for Oakland’s new Cathedral of Christ the Light, project officials released details about the design and construction of the new 21,600-square-foot worship space and its adjacent buildings. The cathedral will replace St. Francis de Sales Cathedral which was razed after being irreparably damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

The new cathedral, with a seating capacity of 1500, will be built at the northwestern tip of Lake Merritt at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Harrison Street. The 100,000-square-foot site, currently a parking lot, will also contain offices and a multi-purpose hall for the cathedral parish, offices for diocesan staff, a conference center, rectories for the bishop and parish priests, a library, café, shop, public plaza, and underground parking for 200 cars.

The design, which has already been awarded the prestigious San Francisco AIA Design Award, is the inspiration of San Francisco architect Craig Hartman, whose other accomplishments include the international terminal at San Francisco Airport and the newly completed U.S.
Embassy in Beijing. He is associated with Skidmore, Owings& Merrill.
Hartman said his intent is “to create a 21st century architecture that would ennoble and inspire through the use of light, material and form, and convey an inclusive statement of welcome and openness.”

Hartman plans to use light, which he calls a “sacred phenomenon,” to elevate the use of such modest materials as laminated douglas fir, concrete and glass into a dynamic structure that rises more than 140 feet.
The cathedral’s curved shape will be formed by 26 110-foot-high laminated douglas fir vaults conjoined by a compression ring of high-tension steel. These vaults will be connected by 768 horizontal louvers, also made of douglas fir. These fixed louvers will contain sound-absorbing material that will modulate both light and sound within the building.

Natural light will illuminate the cathedral during the day with the early morning light directed by ocular panels toward the altar. At night, soft artificial light will shine through the louvered panels, creating a lantern-like quality on the exterior.

Some of the wooden panels will have acoustically absorptive materials and others will be acoustically reflective so that the spoken word and music can be heard without amplification.

The cathedral’s wooden interior structure creates the building’s strength. A veil of ceramic-frit-coated glass will cover the outside of the cathedral structure, protecting it from wind, rain and other natural elements.

The two are interconnected by lightweight steel tension rods and elongated, tapered wooden compression struts. The outside glass will be made to withstand the wear of centuries, say cathedral engineers. A motorized standard ground rig platform will be installed to allow for washing of the glass.

Hartman said the cathedral plan is founded on the liturgical principles articulated by Vatican II with the emphasis on the celebration of Eucharist. The altar will be the central focus with the congregation encircling it. This contrasts with the linear, hierarchical structure of early cathedrals. The altar will be inscribed within a circle of glass in the floor that will visually connect it with the mausoleum altar directly below.

“This configuration symbolizes the Catholic metaphor of the communion of saints, the light uniting the saints who came before, the saints of the present day, and the saints of the future,” Hartman said. Atop the cathedral will be aluminum finials, making the building seem to be reaching to heaven.

A circular baptismal font will be placed directly inside the cathedral’s front door on axis with the altar. It will have what Hartman called an “infinity edge,” allowing water to continuously envelop the top and sides.

Father Ron Schmit, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Byron, is chairing the cathedral’s sacred art and design committee, responsible for cathedral aesthetics and insuring that all elements of the design conform to Church norms. Christian Brother William Woeger, worship director for the Archdiocese of Omaha, is working with the committee on completing the design of the altar area.

The committee will be recommending materials for the cathedral furnishings including the pews and the devotional areas. These will take into consideration the history of the area and the cultural diversity in the diocese, cathedral officials said. They will also select the interior artwork, insuring that it represents the devotions and spirituality of various Catholic ethnicities. Bishop Allen Vigneron said the cathedral will be “rich with Catholic metaphors and symbols.”

The $131 million construction project is expected to begin immediately after the May 21 groundbreaking with excavation of the entire site, followed by installation of the concrete foundations and the 2.5-acre podium for all the buildings adjacent to the cathedral itself. The cathedral is expected to open for Epiphany 2008.

More than 1,500 trades persons are expected to be involved in the construction project, according to Lee Nordlund, cathedral spokesperson. He said all contractors and subcontractors must employ union workers and will be required to meet not only EEOC fair-hiring requirements but also diversity goals set by diocesan officials.

Three components of the initial plan for the cathedral center— a daily chapel with seating for 150 people, a bell tower and a conference center – have been postponed because of budget constraints, Nordlund said.
To date, $86 million has been pledged or contributed by individuals, foundations and companies, he said. The diocese plans to sell several pieces of property, including the site of the former St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, to raise at least $15 million. The remaining millions still must be raised, he said, to meet the $131 million goal.

When the cathedral center is completed, the St. Francis de Sales Cathedral Parish, which merged with St. Mary Parish after the earthquake and became St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales Parish will move to the new cathedral with Father Quang Dong as rector. The parish will continue its outreach ministries, including services to the poor, Nordlund said.

An artist rendition of the design for the new Cathedral of Christ the Light.


This illustration of the cathedral center shows the entrance from 21st Street. Construction of the bell tower will be postponed because of costs.

Cathedral center includes
public gardens,
lake views

The Cathedral of Christ the Light will be the tallest building in the cathedral center at the corner of Grand Avenue and Harrison Street across from Oakland’s Lake Merritt. Architect Craig Hartman has designed the site to take full advantage of the lake location.
From the cathedral entrance and its adjacent plaza one level above Harrison Street, visitors will have direct views of the lake. At the southeast corner of the site on 21st Street, there will be a sloping “Pilgrim’s Path,” which will ascend from the lower lake level to the cathedral entry.
At the elevated cathedral level, there will be meditation gardens, courtyards and such public buildings as a library, bookstore and café as well as access to the diocesan and parish offices.
“The intent,” Hartman said, “is to make the site unconditionally open and welcome to all, regardless of faith, and to celebrate the joining of the city with its natural environment.”
The design engineers have also taken the location into account, developing ways to insure that the buildings can withstand a major earthquake by using a friction-pendulum base isolation system.
The design calls for renewable, recycled and low-energy materials, including laminated wood, recycled aluminum and concrete. Very little steel will be used. The cathedral, Hartman said, will be one-eighth the weight of the recently completed Los Angeles Cathedral.

















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