Located between the Civic Centre and the Cultural Centre on Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is famous for its modern and deconstructivist design. Opened formally on 2nd September 2002, the cathedral, named in honour of the Virgin Mary, was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Spanish architect  Rafael Moneo and has become one of the iconic landmarks of the City Of Angels.

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(Cathedral Of Our Lady Of Angels)(@en.wikipedia.org)

Design | Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

The cathedral has been designed the inspired by two underlying theological truths based on  ‘Light’ and ‘Journey’ – the first is the Light Of God revealed in salvation history, especially in and through Jesus Christ, and the second is the Journey of our evolving relationship with God, a journey of pilgrimage towards achieving redemption in life. The total concept of the church can be described as the journey of moving away from the darkness of evil and towards the light of God and salvation. 

Instead of the traditional rear entry near the last pews, the Cathedral Of Our Lady Of Angels opens in the South direction at the ambulatory that circles the interiors and is on a slight incline, urging one to move forward while heightening the sense of an upward journey. There are a total of ten chapels inside the cathedral that open into the ambulatory instead of the nave, allowing a more widespread area for meditative and devotional prayer. 

The font is designed for Baptism by immersion – from the far side, the steps descend into the immersion pool, and they emerge out on the nave side. It is designed this way to give the feeling that the sins people descend into the pool are washed off and when they emerge, they can continue their journey upwards to the Altar.

The nave has been designed to hold a total of 3,000 people – fixed seating for 1,900 people and additional movable seating for 1,100 more. There are no pillars that block the view and the design of the nave encourages full and active participation by the devotees.

The Presbyterium, located behind and to the left of the Altar has been built for a total of 300 priests and has many risers that allow many choir groups to perform and even hold sacred concerts. Two transcepts on either side of the Sanctuary allow devotees to assemble around the Altar.

The cathedral has been planned in a way so that it fulfils the tradition of facing the East towards the holy city of Jerusalem. Facing the rising direction of the sun allows natural light from the morning sun to enter the cathedral.

The cathedral, built in the form of a crucifix, expresses the vibrancy and the diversity of the Catholic people in the 21st century in its application of postmodernism and deconstructivism design. The whole building contains several acute and obtuse angles in its form and completely avoids the use of right angles. 

The Cathedral Of Our Lady Of The Angels also has a mausoleum in its lower level, with one chapel and also contains 1,270 crypts and 4,746 columbarium niches that can be used for burials. The 16 large stained glass windows and 9 lunettes in the baroque revival style present in the mausoleum were restored from St. Vibiana’s Cathedral by The Judson Studios.

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(Plan By Rafael Moneo)(@en.wikiarquitectura.com)
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The Cathedral Of Our Lady Of The Angels has been built using architectural concrete in a colour that reminds one of the sun-baked adobe walls of the California Missions and the complex geometry of the form does not allow the concrete forms to vary by more than 1/16th of an inch. 

The most unique and iconic feature of the cathedral is the 27,000 square feet of alabaster windows, the largest of its kind in the USA. The alabaster chosen for the cathedral was imported from Spain and has veins of green, grey, red and yellow. The alabaster panels with a thickness of 1 1/2 centimetres, and varying in size from 2 1/2 to 6 feet wide have been carefully positioned to create giant mosaics that hide the 60×100 foot curtain walls on the South and North sides of the cathedral. 

Smaller panelled windows have also been hung up on the North-eastern and Western sides of the church. Alabaster becomes opaque after heating up to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and so an exterior layer of glass with protective film has been built to shield the windows from UV rays and heat. Sunlight enters in the morning through these windows and differs in the North and South directions. 

At night, these windows are illuminated by specially designed lights present between the alabaster and the layer of glass, giving the whole cathedral the appearance of glowing from the inside. The use of these windows emphasizes the theological concept of light that the church has been built upon.

The ceiling of the cathedral is made of cedarwood and supported by nine steel trusses, which has allowed to forego the use of pillars in the nave. Cherry wood has been used for the pews and other structural woodwork in the church.

Sixty thousand Spanish, Jana limestone stones have been used to pave the Cathedral floor in a circular pattern emanating from the Altar, providing a visible reminder that the celebration of the Eucharist is at the middle of the Catholic faith.

There is also a 50-foot concrete cross that adorns the front of the Cathedral, near the altar, and huge bronze doors cast by sculptor Robert Graham and crowned by the contemporary statues of Our Lady Of The Angels at the main entrance to the cathedral.

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(The Architectural Concrete And Crucifix On The Facade)(@churchpop.com)
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Sustainability | Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

The Cathedral Of Our Lady Of The Angels was built to replace the Cathedral Of Saint Vibiana which was destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, as the mother church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. So, the cathedral weighing 151 million pounds has been made to rest on 198 base isolators that can float up to 27 inches during an earthquake of point 8 magnitudes, making it more sustainable

The architectural concrete used for the whole building has been designed to last 500 years. The limestone stones used in the floor design are a very durable material and also make the church more sustainable. 

(The Sustainably Built Cathedral With Complex Geometry)(@cmfinc.com)


Anon, (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathedral_of_Our_Lady_of_the_Angels#Mausoleum  [Accessed 8 May 2021].

Anon, (n.d.). [online] Available at: http://www.olacathedral.org/  [Accessed 8 May 2021].


Ipshita Seth has been in love with words for as long she can remember and now that she's studying Architecture, she's found a new love for writing about designing spaces, history of buildings, construction technologies and everything else that comes with them. She has joined RTF to give words to her dreams.