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Christ Cathedral

Johnson Fain

Christ Cathedral
By Michael Webb -

Christ Cathedral, the new home of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County, is a triumph of transformation that infuses a glass shed with spirituality and a beauty that will beguile even non-believers.
It is a model of adaptive re-use and sustainability that rivals SOM’s ground-up Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland
(THE PLAN 034).

Forty years ago, Philip Johnson and John Burgee designed the
diamond-plan Crystal Cathedral for televangelist Robert Schuller as a stage for his ministry. In essence it was a television studio,
column-free and light-filled, with an audience of 2,000 at ground-level and in galleries. Cameras transmitted a Sunday service to millions of viewers. Scott Johnson (no relation) was an apprentice in Johnson Burgee’s New York office in the late 1970s, working on the cathedral and some of the glass-skinned corporate towers that brought the practice fame. In 2013, as the Schuller ministry crumbled, the Diocese bought the property and commissioned Johnson Fain to create a new cathedral within the old shell.

Philip Johnson made his reputation with the Glass House on his New Canaan estate, and the raked glass roof of his sculpture gallery flowered into a succession of sculptured and champfered glass towers, notably Pennzoil in Houston and PPG in Pittsburgh. The curtain walls of the cathedral, approached from a circuit of parking lots, reflect palm trees but otherwise convey no sense of place. This is the centerpiece of a sprawling religious theme park, which began with a low-slung church and 13-story tower by Richard Neutra and concluded with Richard Meier’s Visitors’ Center. The grounds, re-landscaped by Rios Clementi Hale Studios, are cluttered with kitsch statuary.

Scott Johnson welcomed the challenge of revisiting his early work, transforming spectacle to liturgy and rethinking every aspect of the interior, while leaving the exterior unchanged. He was...

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