When the Rev. Robert H. Schuller decided in the mid-
On the face of it, Schuller and Johnson were a very strange match, the self-
Johnson, who always knew how to make headlines, once said, “Whoever commissions buildings, buys me. I am for sale. I am a whore. I am an artist.” Schuller described his Garden Grove compound as “a 22-
Together, between 1977 and 1980, they produced one of the triumphant landmarks of Southern California kitsch, at 415 feet wide, 207 feet deep and 128 feet high bigger than Notre Dame in Paris. A giant asymmetrical mirrored-
So maybe it was oddly fitting, a kind of historical rhyme, when in the wake of the Schuller ministry’s messy bankruptcy, the buyer that came swooping in to pick up the remains of his empire in 2012 turned out to be the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.
For the fire-
It then hired Scott Johnson of the L.A. firm Johnson Fain to lead a redesign of the cathedral. Though he’s not related to Philip Johnson, he did work in the Johnson Burgee office as a young architect and was assigned briefly to the Garden Grove project.
Here, to put it mildly, was another classic odd-
I was surprised, amused and briefly heartened when I arrived for a news briefing a few weeks ago inside the stripped-
No such luck. What we all saw when we strapped those headsets on was a digitized version of the remade cathedral interior that is heavy, earthbound and handsome to a fault. It is a design more suggestive of the offices of a high-
The Christ Cathedral proposal, which is expected to cost $72 million and be completed in 2019, is a streamlined version of one floated a few months earlier with a price tag of $108 million.
Though the mezzanine that fills three corners of the cathedral’s original four-
The fountain that ran through the center of the cathedral, splashing audibly until it died down just as Schuller began to speak, is already gone. New interior walls, 14 feet high, will be wrapped in fluted limestone. Other details will be in brushed stainless steel, dark bronzed steel, marble and cherry wood.
Some of this updating is to be expected, of course, given the differences between Catholic services and the kind Schuller led (and the fact that the cathedral no longer operates as a giant television studio). According to Scott Johnson the toughest challenge was to make Catholic services, which rely heavily on a processional choreography along a lengthy axis from the main entrance to the altar, work in a building that is much wider than it is deep. It’s also true that some regular churchgoers found the interior a bit stuffy on hot days.
But some of the alterations are unnecessary even given the pressures of what the church refers to as “liturgical compliance.” The redesign put the fundamental spirit of the building at risk, aiming for the sort of well-
The biggest change is the proposed addition of a new fixed layer of translucent panels, each in the shape of a quatrefoil, hanging from the cathedral’s existing space-
What Johnson created inside the cathedral, as he and Burgee put it in a monograph of the firm’s work published in 1985, was “a hushed, underwater atmosphere.” Going from that treatment of light to an imitation of a dark European cathedral is an impossible journey. The whole point of the building is to be a container for sunlight — muted sunlight, but sunlight nonetheless.
As Schuller once said, referring to the importance of an interior washed in sunlight, “If a two-
Which, when you consider the new ground-
The redesign aims for the sort of well-
Still, it’s worth remembering that the original version, soon to be covered up, is one of the great ceilings in postwar American architecture, the seemingly endless Jeffersonian grid lifted off the map and into the air and made luminous by the California sun. It was the kind of ceiling a structural engineer and a seeker of God could admire in equal measure. It was aerospace, Walt Disney, a revival tent and Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in London spun into one.
To their credit, both the Diocese of Orange and Johnson Fain think about the additions they are proposing not as major surgery to an existing building as much as a new container of space that can be slipped inside the cathedral’s mirrored-
As Scott Johnson puts it, “It was unimaginable to consider any significant change to Philip Johnson’s exterior design.”
All the same, it’s clear that a central goal of the redesign is to bring some gravitas to the sanctuary — a sense of weight underscored by expensive and muscular materials. It’s hardly shocking that the Diocese of Orange would ask the architects to try to move in that direction. It’s also possible that the church never looked particularly deeply into the unorthodox architectural history of the cathedral when it decided to buy the compound, never truly understood what it meant as a cultural as well as religious landmark.
The reasons for the purchase, after all, would seem to have had mostly to do with demographics. Orange County represents a growth opportunity for the Catholic Church, especially among Latino and Asian parishioners, at a time of declining membership around the country; the Diocese of Orange, with 1.2 million members, is the 10th largest in the country and the second-
But it is surprising that any architect — and especially one with as much understanding of Philip Johnson’s basic philosophy as Scott Johnson — could support the idea that gravitas and the Crystal Cathedral are even the slightest bit compatible. The building has far more in common with the nearby Matterhorn at Disneyland, the Biosphere in Arizona or the domes of Buckminster Fuller than with any cathedral in Europe.
Quite simply it is gravitas-
Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
Another view of the Christ Cathedral design proposal by Johnson Fain. (Shimahara Illustrations)
The Crystal Cathedral redesign: Why tasteful updates add up to architectural disappointment
By Christopher Hawthorne, Architecture Critic – LA Time article – posted Nov. 17, 2016
The Rev. Robert H. Schuller inside the Crystal Cathedral in 1980. (Los Angeles Times)