God is in the Details
Deborah Wilk -- Interior Design, 5/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
firm:skidmore, owings & merrill
site: oakland, california
Craig Hartman is an architect not prone to hyperbole. While discussing the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California, the design partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill shies away from words such as soaring or spectacular. Sacred spaces, in his estimation, should embody the humility of prayer, devotion, and service. Gently prodded, he gamely suggests the adjective ennobling.
Hartman is not Roman Catholic. "I came to the project with an understanding that I would need to enlist the aid of scholars and others who really knew the faith, the liturgy, and their relationship to architecture," he says. His extensive study led him to a design embodying the Vatican II declaration interpreting the relationship between the priest, altar, and congregation as inclusive rather than hierarchical: The shape of the 17,000-square-foot, 1,350-seat cathedral is "softer, more curved and fluid," than the traditional basilica and nave, he explains. Here, the congregation forms a ring around the altar, pulpit, and tabernacle.
In a nod to earthly concerns, green materials are primary. Concrete was made with slag and fly ash. Sustainably harvested Douglas fir louvers help regulate the light that comes through the conical curtain wall's translucent laminated low-E glass—with a fritted pattern that looks a bit like tree bark. Over the south-facing entrance, the louvers give way to triangular panels tilted to let in progressively more sunshine the higher up they go.
The "window" above the altar is actually panels of perforated aluminum. When the otherwise solid metal is pierced by the sun's rays, a 58-foot-high image of Christ appears. It's taken from a French 12th-century statue on the west portal of Chartres cathedral.