Location:  Garden Grove, California

Client: Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange selected Johnson Fain to transform the iconic Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California into Christ Cathedral. Originally designed by Philip Johnson for Reverend Robert Schuller, the building has undergone extensive improvements to the all-glass 2000 seat interior, transitioning this important architectural landmark into a Roman Catholic place of worship. The design has addressed sunlight control, acoustics and environmental comfort. This historic opportunity restores and respects the original building while creating a unique sacramental space within the framework of the original classic modern structure.

Our mandate was to honor the essence and strength of the original architecture, while accommodating the rich traditions and liturgy of the Catholic Church. As part of this, the design introduces specialized Catholic program elements, such as the chapels, crypts, columbarium, and sacristies. The grasp of cultural history and liturgical detail necessary in this task has required attentive and iterative communication with our patrons.

The 78,000 square-foot structure features a 2,000-seat congregation hall, and is situated on a 34-acre campus. This cathedral is now a spiritual home to Orange County’s 1.3 million Catholics, and meets the day-to-day needs of a more than 10,000-member Cathedral parish.

One of the most complex aspects of the design is the interior treatment of the space frame. This interior shell is at the nexus of many symbolic and technical issues. As the new stone floor and lower walls recall the earth, so the glass vault overhead recalls the heavens. In addition to this potent symbolism, the new redesign of these surfaces addresses issues of acoustics, daylight and night lighting, solar heat transmission and ventilation as well as environmental comfort and visibility.

The historic shell of the original Crystal Cathedral has been maintained and restored. Its three principle entries have been reconfigured. The main entry leading to the new Narthex at the South has been fully glazed with the addition of two bronze pivot doors which comprise the Bishop’s Door. The new interior plan is a cruciform. The three remaining extremities are the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament to the North, The Baptistery to the West and the Pilgrims’ Entry and Rotunda Stair to the East, leading to the Undercroft. These three important spaces are distinctive in shape, indirectly lit and glazed in translucent onyx.

In order to address the environmental aspects of the glass structure, the design proposes a complex system of quatrefoils made up of triangular metal sails in various stages of openness. By arranging open and closed “petals” on the inside surface of the space frames with respect to their solar orientation, natural light can be modulated throughout the day, glare can be reduced and rich translucent patterns will define the interior shell by day and by night.