SOM in the Press

Imagine, Design, Create: The Cathedral of Christ the Light

Photo © Cesar Rubio

Source: Autodesk

A sacred place is different from most buildings. Sometime during its construction, it must transform from a job site into a place of God. Three years after the Cathedral of Christ the Light opened its doors as a place of worship, there are still faint oil stains on the exposed concrete reliquary walls.

The origin of the Cathedral of Christ the Light dates to October 17, 1989, when the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake rumbled through northern California and destroyed the cathedrals' predecessor. By the end of the 1990s, a move was under way within the local diocese to design and construct a new cathedral. The Bay Area's Alameda/Contra Costa Diocese (the spiritual home of more than 600,000 Catholics) launched a major design competition. The project was eventually awarded to Craig Hartman, FAIA, and his team in the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM.)

During the competition, the diocese presented Hartman with a series of questions that demonstrated its interest in a building designed to recast the very notion of what a cathedral should look like and what roles it should serve. "The questions they asked were sort of imponderables: How would you make a place that is both civic and sacred? How would you make a place that is both noble and soaring, yet intimate?" recalls Hartman. "It made me think about that it means to design a cathedral in the twenty-first century." Indeed, that very question was at the heart of the diocese's design prospectus.

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