Transforming the Crystal Cathedral

September 25, 2014

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange earlier this week formally unveiled its vision for transforming the erstwhile campus of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries, a congregation of the Reformed Church in America, founded in 1955 by Robert H. Schuller. The Diocese purchased the 34-acre site in 2012 from Schuller's congregation and has spent the past two years working with us and two other architectural studios to re-imagine the Garden Grove site as a global center for Catholic life.

As the firm responsible for the campus master plan and the rehabilitation of several ancillary buildings, we envisioned a new narrative for the site, one that preserves and highlights Philip Johnson's remarkable 32,000-sq. ft. cathedral at its center. Johnson Fain is performing the interior renovations on the cathedral, while LPA Inc. has already completed the rehabilitation of Richard Neutra's Arboretum building, where the Diocese currently holds services until the cathedral is complete.

Our task has been to create a site landscape that honors the architectural history and past worshipers, while remaining flexible for the ever-changing program needs of the future. The new church needs to welcome everyone in the community yet fit within the Catholic liturgy.

Our plan places the cathedral at the sacred heart of the campus, ringed by a plaza of four discrete courtyards: the Pilgrim's Court, the Festal Court, the Marian Court, and the Court of the Catechumens. A continuous paving pattern and 12 large light elements tie these courts to one another and to the cathedral. The plaza welcomes the entire community in its ability to accommodate all manner of liturgical and non-liturgical programming—everything from an outdoor mass to a farmer's market.

A water feature breathes life into the plaza, encouraging children to splash around; a new reflecting pool near the Bishop's door visually connects to the existing Arboretum fountain and provides a calming, cleansing element near the Cathedral entry.

A canopy of trees shades the perimeter, forming a threshold between the profane world beyond and the sacred, holy space of the Cathedral. The flowering trees provide color and character throughout the year, mimicking the four seasons and the cycle of Catholic life. We see this "threshold" as a modern interpretation of the traditional ambulatory of the cathedral, where supporting sacred elements like shrines and chapels are housed, and where members of  various faith communities can leave their imprint.

Improved signage, pedestrian circulation, and ADA-accessibility prioritize people over cars. A Community Green replaces a mundane parking lot at the corner of Lewis St. and Chapman Ave., opening the campus to the community with a park-like setting for large-scale events like outdoor concerts.

Dozens of sculptures that remained on site will find a new home in the Crystal Cathedral Ministries Garden, acknowledging past donors and welcoming the people who once worshiped here. The cemetery also remains ecumenical. But other fundamental changes, such as the stations of the cross and new spaces for figural and representational art, bring the campus in line with the Catholic liturgy.

Enable Javascript