The Cathedral of Christ the Light / SOM

If you haven´t heard about Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, maybe you didn´t take and Architecture History class, as they played an active role on the  International Style during the 1930s. They also developed an expertise in high rise towers and structural engineering, shaping the downtown of the most important cities in the United States – and the rest of the world. As of now SOM is one of the largest offices in the world, with on-going projects such as the Burj Dubai, actually the tallest building in the world.

But SOM is not just high rise buildings. They have developed award winning sustainable master plans, interiors, structures, and other types of buildings.

Now we present you The Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, CA, an amazing structure with a wooden/ skin that creates an interior full of light. One of my favorite buildings of the year, already awarded with an AIA Honor Award for Architecture.

We´d like to thank SOM San Francisco for providing us all the information of this new project.

Architects: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
Location: Oakland, , USA
Design Team: Craig Hartman, FAIA, Design Partner / Gene Schnair, FAIA, Managing Partner / Keith Boswell, AIA, Technical Director / Raymond Kuca, AIA, Project Manager / Patrick Daly, AIA, Senior Design Architect / Eric Keune, AIA / Lisa Gayle Finster, AIA / Christopher Kimball / Jane Lee / Christina Kyrillou / Elizabeth Valadez / Denise Hall Montgomery / Mariah Neilson / Peter Jackson / Surjanto / Gary Rohrbacher / Ayumi Sugiyama / Liang Wu / Katie Motchen / Matthew Tierney / Henry Vlanin
Structural Engineering: Mark Sarkisian, PE, SE, Structural Engineering Director / Peter Lee, PE, SE, Senior Structural Engineer / Eric Long, PE, Senior Structural Engineer / Aaron Mazeika, PE, AP / William Bond / Ernest Vayl / Feliciano Racines / Jean-Pierre Michel Chakar / Lindsay Hu / Rupa Garai / Sarah Diegnan
Interior Design: Tamara Dinsmore, Chanda Capelli, Susanne LeBlanc, Carmen Carrasco, David Lou
General Contractor: Webcor Builders
Design start: 2002
Construction Complete: 2008
Site Area: 2.50 acres
Constructed Area: 20,996 sqm
Photographs: César Rubio, Timothy Hursley, John Blaustein

© César Rubio © Timothy Hursley © César Rubio © John Blaustein

Architect´s description:

The Cathedral of Christ the Light provides a sanctuary in the broadest sense of the word. Located in downtown Oakland, this house of worship ofers a sense of solace, spiritual renewal, and respite from the secular world.

The Cathedral employs a non-linear approach to honor the church’s 2,000-year history without forcing a specifc point of view. By stripping away received iconography, the design positions symbolic meaning within contemporary culture. The approachable result remains open to the region’s ever-changing multi-cultural makeup and to the future.

© César Rubio

As its name suggests, the Cathedral draws on the tradition of light as a sacred phenomenon. Through its poetic introduction, indirect daylight ennobles modest materials-primarily wood, glass, and concrete. With the exception of evening activities, the Cathedral is lit entirely by daylight to create an extraordinary level of luminosity.

The lightest ecological footprint was always a core design objective.

Through the highly innovative use of renewable materials, the building minimizes the use of energy and natural resources.

© Timothy Hursley

The structure’s concrete makes use of fy ash and slag, a waste byproduct of coal combustion and steel production, to reduce the amount of cement, a resource-consuming material. An advanced version of the ancient Roman technique of thermal inertia maintains the interior climate with mass and radiant heat. Douglas fr, obtained through sustainably harvesting processes, has proven to be aesthetically pleasing, economically sound, and structurally forgiving-the wood’s surfaces add warmth while its elasticity allows for the bending and returning of shape during seismic activity. Through the use of advanced seismic techniques, including base isolation, the structure will withstand another 1,000-year earthquake. The Cathedral of Christ the Light, a building for the ages, will endure for centuries rather than decades.


© César Rubio

Exterior Wall Systems: Glass, Precast Concrete
Interior: Precast Concrete, Wood

Structural description

© Timothy Hursley

The main Cathedral superstructure consists of a hybrid structural system of reinforced concrete, pre-fabricated glued laminated wood timber members, high-strength structural steel rods paired with glued laminated wood compression struts, and a steel friction-pendulum seismic base isolation system. The superstructure is supported atop an eighteen-foot-high mausoleum substructure of reinforced concrete extending to a reinforced concrete mat foundation.

Omega Window

© John Blaustein

The image of Jesus is 58 feet high.
There are over 94,000 perforations that render the image.


© Timothy Hursley

© Timothy Hursley

© Timothy Hursley

Extra Credits

Owner: Catholic Diocese of Oakland
Projects representatives: Bishop Allen H. Vigneron, Provost Father Paul Minnihan, Project Director John L. McDonnell Jr.
Technical Coordinator: David Diamond, AIA
Environmental Graphics: Lonny Israel, Alan Sinclair
Digital Design Coordinator: Douglas Smith, Associate AIA
Architect of Record: Kendall/Heaton Associates, Inc., Houston
Mausoleum Contractor: Oliver + Co.
Construction and Program Management: Conversion Management Associates, Inc. (CMA, Inc.)
Landscape Architect: Peter Walker and Partners
Electrical Engineering: The Engineering Enterprise
Mechanical Engineering: Taylor Engineering, LLC
Civil Engineering: Korve Engineering
Consultants: Claude R. Engle, Lighting / Shen Milsom & Wilke, Inc., Acoustics / Brother William Woeger, Liturgical Art / Auerbach Pollack Friedlander, Theater / C.S. Caulkins Co., Inc., Building Maintenance / Schoenstein & Co., Consultant / Letourneau Pipe Organs Ltd., Construction, Organ / HMA Consulting Inc., Security / Persohn/Hahn Associates, Inc., Elevator / Rolf Jensen & Associates, Code / Treadwell & Rollo, Soils / Cini-Little International, Inc., Foodservice

Cite: "The Cathedral of Christ the Light / SOM" 12 Feb 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <>
  • Steven D. Papke

    Simply stunning.

  • derek

    it is, visually, a very nice building. the space even feels right once within. attend mass there, however, and you’re overcome by how horrible the acoustics are. we need to hold designers more accountable than this, particularly in projects with these kinds of resources involved. the building is, in program, something of a lecture hall, or performance art space. experiencing the neglect of 50% of its functionality was really disappointing. makes for great photographs though.

  • brigidigi

    i like this building. you can’t help but stare when you walk or drive by. it’s got this presence that draws your eye to it. at night i can see it lit up from my friend’s fire escape. at that point i wonder if it was intentional that the building’s shape is not very complimentary to the surrounding buildings.

  • Niko

    Superb Structure ,and excelent detail and functionality.
    The shape is very attractive and fits perfectlly.

  • Niko

    Super Structure

  • Ani

    If my church was like this, maybe I would go more often…

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  • martin

    the floor plan looks like a fish. would it be a reference to a miracle?

  • Tyler

    I can draw only generic similarities to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Beth Sholom Synagogue, but good eye, OJ. The era of Wright rip offs is perhaps at a bitter sweet downward jagged slant, unlike LeCorbusier’s. Ah, but the argument continues. The International Style is harder to discern “inspiration” from “intellectual theft.”

  • MKL

    SOM creates another masterpiece. Beautiful!

  • Lucas Gray

    I like this project a lot. It’s simple and elegant yet steeped with symbolism.

    I would LOVE to design a religious building. Anyone want to hire me?

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  • Érica

    nossa, tô babando aqui!

  • nals

    you’re stretching with that one…

  • Jacquiline Cooper

    Thank you very much for your help, this has been a great abatement from the books,

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  • east33rd

    If this is too similar to Beth Sholom Synagogue, then what about every building that “evokes” a tower? Or a cube? Or …

    And why Wright? He didn’t invent the Mayan temple.

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  • Brooke

    I am glad I found your site on stumbleupon. Thanks for the sensible critique. Me and my boyfriend were just preparing to do some research about this. I am very happy to see such great info being shared freely out there.
    Best Regards,
    Fisher from New York city