Christ Catholic Cathedral Master Plan & Landscape Design
The Sacred Heart
The word pattern is defined as “a repeated decorative design” based on its common application to a surface, but it is the alternate definition of this term, “giving a regular or intelligible form to [something],” that reveals the potential for placemaking.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange’s acquisition of the legendary Crystal Cathedral is an opportunity to re-imagine the entire 34-acre campus as the focal point for Orange County’s Catholics and a global center for Catholic life, with Philip Johnson’s iconic cathedral at its center. After a competition in 2013, RCH Studios was hired to design both a campus master plan and a series of large public plazas, and Johnson Fain was hired the renovate the cathedral’s interior.
A Tangible Plaza with a Sacred Center
The initial design process helped to identify six guiding principles for the site that encompass the overarching goals for the entire project:
• The Cathedral is the center of the campus
• Elevate the campus to be a global center for Catholic life
• Prioritize people over cars
• Welcome and serve all in the local community
• Promote design excellence for site
• Preserve flexibility for the future
The conceptual masterplan aims to preserve flexibility of use for ever-changing program needs around the perimeter of the campus by focusing the initial site-development adjacent to the Cathedral and by using these areas for the larger, communal gathering spaces. The masterplan creates hierarchies of sacred space that radiate concentrically out to the surrounding community while creating a welcoming, processional arrival that progresses from secular surroundings to an open, sacred plaza with the Christ Cathedral at its heart.
The plaza surrounds the sacred heart of the campus — the Cathedral itself. The role of the surrounding plaza is to create a supporting framework for a wider range of liturgical and non-liturgical events and programming which help create and nurture the bonds of community. The plaza is zoned into four courtyards: The Pilgrim’s Court, the Festal Court, The Marian Court, and the Court of the Catechumens. These courtyards are denoted by their connections to the internal, liturgical organization of the Cathedral. The pattern design is the key to hold the Cathedral and the plaza together.
Pattern Design as Place Making
The holistic picture of the design is based on the foundational element of the smallest unit — 6”x12” concrete paver units donated to the Diocese to cover the surface of the plaza.
A quatrefoil labyrinth, common in European churches, inspired the pattern. The idea of the labyrinth was originally described by the phrase “chemin de Jerusalem,” or path to Jerusalem, a path of procession that quiets the mind in prayer and reflection. Its symmetrical beauty possesses subtle variations in each of the four quadrants.
The design team started with six options and landed on one arranged in a rotating square configuration to resonate with the quatrefoil shading inside the Cathedral.
Pavers with graduating shades of grey are arranged within the quatrefoil module to represent shading of sunlight at different angles. Ten modules of labyrinth pattern were further assembled into sections or “pages” that define the plaza at a 12-foot scale.
The Cathedral’s plaza is comprised of 14 pages. Each has a Carrara marble block representing one station of the 14 Stations of the Cross, establishing a progression and sequence. Many historic church plazas uses high-contrast patterns to delineate gathering areas. We designed the surrounding plaza to create a supporting framework for a wider range of liturgical and non-liturgical events and programming which create and nurture community bonds. The 350-foot-wide plaza is zoned into four courts: The Pilgrim’s Court, the Festal Court, The Marian Court, and the Court of the Catechumens. The courts share a scale of between 65 and 80 feet in width and can accommodate around 1,500 people. Though the idea of elevating procession is essential for the sacred plaza, it was also critical that it embrace the cadence and events of everyday life.
Ringing the plaza is a ‘margin’ that contains a mix of shrines, chapels, visitor services, and support elements for the Cathedral — a modern interpretation of the traditional ambulatory of the Cathedral where sacred elements are traditionally housed and where various faith communities can leave their imprint. This frame is a liminal space where visitors making the transition from the profane world into the sacred, holy space of the Cathedral. In a future phase, this ‘margin’ will be planted as a shaded, tree-lined threshold. Flowering trees were chosen to provide color and unique character throughout the year, connecting to the four seasons and cycle of Catholic life.