Cathedral is the place of worship for the Christian community, slightly different from the church. Cathedral is sometimes mistakenly applied as a generic term for any very large and imposing church. In fact, a cathedral does not have to be large or imposing, although many cathedrals are. The cathedral takes its name from the word cathedra, or “bishop’s throne”. A cathedral has a specific ecclesiastical role and administrative purpose as the seat of a bishop.

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Hence the grandeur. Cathedrals are more celebratory than the churches, similar or often lesser than the basilica.

The Church building grew out of a number of features of the Ancient Roman period:

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  • The house churches
  • The Atrium
  • The Basilica
  • The Bema
  • The Mausoleum – centrally planned building
  • The cruciform ground plan – Latin or Greek cross

Most of these features help in the identification of any church building. Although the space planning and functions of spaces, architectural elements have remained relatively unchanged for a long time. We now see a slight shift in these definitions of traditional cathedrals.

A typical cathedral from any of the Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque or Revival style of architecture would have all of these in common:

The central Axis, Nave, Crossing and Transept, elaborate facade, intricate decoration, same location for the Altar, Choir Stall, Organ or Presbytery.

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But with the modern style of church architecture, most of these have been redefined. To lay a better comparison of these two kinds, let’s look at two Cathedrals from the West. The Cathedral of Christ the light in Oakland and the Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, California.

The Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal cathedral on Nob Hill, San Francisco, California. Founded in 1849 during the California Gold Rush, it is the cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of California. After the fire followed by an earthquake, rework began on the present structure in 1928. Designed in French Gothic style by Lewis P. Hobart, it was finally completed in 1964 as the third largest Episcopal cathedral in the nation.

The Cathedral of Christ the Light, also called Oakland Cathedral, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland in Oakland, California. It is the seat of the Bishop of Oakland. Christ the Light, the first cathedral built entirely in the 21st century. It was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Architects, opened in 2008.

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Drawing a comparison between the two great architecture pieces in itself, the dissimilarity can be clearly seen among them.

Architecture Style:

While Grace Cathedral is a Gothic Revival style of architecture, Christ of Light is an International or Modern style of Church architecture. The Grace obeys all rules of the typical Gothic style with the elaborate facade, stained glass windows, the cruciform plan, twin towers, central fleche and polygonal apse, all French in origin, with the cathedrals of Amiens, Paris (Notre Dame), Beauvais and Chartres being principal influences. Even the nave clerestory is typically English. The Cathedral is 100m long, 49m feet wide at the transepts and the nave vaulting rises to 27m, with a footprint covering 3,357 sq.m.

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Having received several awards for Christ of light, the Cathedral expands over the 250,000 sq.ft area and height of136 ft, right across the Lake Merritt of Oakland.

Material:

The use of raw concrete and steel for the Grace Cathedral fabric is daring and unusual, but the 1906 earthquake made structural strength necessary. Prefabricated cast stone was used for some decorative detail and Guastavino acoustic tile for the vaulting.

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Built using modest primary materials, wood, concrete and glass Christ of Light, the design achieves an extraordinary level of lightness and luminosity. Douglas fir wood, fly ash concrete, glass have been used inside the building. The exterior skin is a hybrid structure 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.

Experience:

With a building form based on an inner wooden vessel contained within a veil of glass — both of which are anchored on an architectural concrete base — the design of Christ the light Cathedral conveys an inclusive statement of welcome and openness as the community’s symbolic soul.

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The Grace is expressive in its grandeur with the stained glass rose windows, high volume of the spaces, providing the warm feeling of connecting to God. Like any classical building, it is perfectly symmetrical and well proportioned.

The most unusual and boldest move in the modern church building is the space planning and layout. Without the cross and nave-transept-crossing concept, it still retains the feeling of being a place of worship. The cross that is typically placed at the end of the central axis, is placed acentric. The oval plan comprising of intersection between two circles is drawn from the shape of the fish bladder.  The walls are composed of overlapping panels of wood and glass rising skyward to form the vault, much like the scales of a fish. The design is inspired by the miracle of the loaves and the fishes in the Christian tradition, among other motifs. The natural light is filtered through the wooden skin and exterior glass facade throughout the day, making building highly sustainable. Physically devoid of a central axis, the seating arrangement of the cathedral is concentrated towards the centre, with bentwood seats. The eyes draw attention from the top of the roof towards the centre with an image of the god lightened with 94000 backlit perforations.

While some have praised the cathedral’s innovative, modern design and stripped-away iconography, traditionalists have questioned its fidelity to Catholic doctrine and tradition. Rev. Leo Edgerly Jr., who serves on the cathedral advisory board, replied to the critics: “You can go to Europe and see Gothic cathedrals,” he said. “You can come to Oakland and see this.”

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Other modern cathedrals to look at will be the St. Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo, Cathedral of Brasília, Brasil or the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco, California.

Maybe, now this is the evolving definition of cathedral architecture in 2019.

Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Exterior of Grace Cathedral
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Interior of the Cathedral of Christ the light
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Interior of the Cathedral of Christ the light
Interior of the Cathedral of Christ the light
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Interior of the Cathedral of Christ the light
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Interior of the Cathedral of Christ the light
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
A kinetic art installation inside the Grace Cathedral
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
A kinetic art installation inside the Grace Cathedral
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Floor plan of the Grace Cathedral
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Floor plan of the Cathedral of Christ the light
Evolution of Cathedral Architecture in the West
Exterior Structure of the Cathedral of Christ the light
Bibliography-

Reference:

https://gracecathedral.org/architecture-2/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Cathedral,_San_Francisco
https://www.som.com/projects/cathedral_of_christ_the_light
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathedral_of_Christ_the_Light_(Oakland,_California)
https://www.archdaily.com/13276/the-cathedral-of-christ-the-light-som
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Architecture_of_cathedrals_and_great_churches

Image Sources : 

https://www.afar.com/places/grace-cathedral-san-francisco
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https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g32810-d1869714-i224531881-The_Cathedral_of_Christ_the_Light-Oakland_California.html
http://www.nwicon.com/san-francisco-grace-cathedral-center-interior.htm
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Author

Jinal Shah is currently in her Fourth year of Bachelor’s in Interior Design at Cept University, India. She is presently pursuing her internship at BAMO Inc in San Francisco, USA. Being an avid traveler and curious explorer, her understanding for global design evolved as she spent one semester abroad studying as an exchange student at DAAP, University of Cincinnati, United States, attended design workshops around the world. She has always found herself on the Interior Architecture threshold, exploring volumes and connectivity, throughout all her academic projects.Jinal is an active (old school) learner and a firm believer that design is a deep blue sea and each one of us is merely sailing to find that just perfect dimension of a handrail. Details and minimalism appeal her along the path to function and simplicity in design.

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