The Cathedral of Christ the Light


Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP


Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland

Project Vision

The Cathedral of Christ the Light celebrates the liturgical traditions of the Catholic faith through the vocabulary of 21st century design and technology. Located in downtown Oakland, Calif., the 226,000-sq.-ft. cathedral complex was designed to offer a sense of solace, spiritual renewal, and respite from the secular world.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill used architecturally scaled graphic elements to highlight the cathedral’s play of light and its integration of Catholic symbols. The most dramatic element is the “Omega window,” a 58-ft.-tall, modern-day reimagining of traditional church iconography. Rather than a stained glass window or statue, SOM created an ethereal image of Christ, rendered when daylight enters through 94,000 laser-cut perforations on 154 triangular anodized-aluminum panels.

SOM design partner Craig Hartman, FAIA, took inspiration from a 12th century sculptural depiction of Christ found on the façade of Chartres Cathedral in France. Hartman and his team created an algorithm that replicated the original sculpture’s subtleties of shade and shadow. The digital information guided laser technology to cut the 94,000 pixels into the aluminum panels at 100 different diameters. The image is ephemeral, constantly fading or revealing itself depending on the quality of light. At night it is visible on the exterior façade and acts as a beacon in the surrounding city.

Elsewhere in the cathedral, the SOM team created primary thresholds in the space using stainless steel letters embedded into the floor plane.  Custom consecration candles incorporate the names of the apostles, providing a permanent indication of where the walls of the cathedral were anointed with consecrated oil. Custom elements such as confessional screens and chairs and even door pulls were created to continue the architectural design themes and humble but elegant materials used in the space.

Project Details
Most compelling is the innovative use of modest materials, coupled with filtered natural light and sparing use of finely carved design details. The graphic elements add a rich simplicity to this otherwise spare volume punctuated with rich light and images. Bare concrete and stainless steel accents give way to a serene volume and the balanced warmth of natural light. Nothing but serene reflection is possible here.
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Design Team

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLPDesign architects: Craig Hartman, FAIA (design partner); Gene Schnair, FAIA (managing partner); Keith Boswell (technical director)Graphic and product design: Lonny Israel, Alan Sinclair, Brad Thomas, Alex Ng, Neil KatzDesign: Raymond Kuca, Patrick Daly, Eric Keune, Lisa Gayle Finster, Christopher Kimball, Jane Lee, Christina Kyrillou, Elizabeth Valadez, Denise Hall Montgomery, Mariah Neilson, Peter Jackson, Surjanto, Gary Rohrbacher, Ayumi Sugiyama, Liang Wu, Katie Motchen, Matthew Tierney, Henry Vianin, David DiamondStructural engineers: Mark Sarkisian (structural engineering director), Peter Lee, Eric Long, Aaron Mazeika, William Bond, Ernest Vayl, Feliciano Racines, Jean-Pierre Michel Chakar, Lindsay Hu, Rupa Garai, Sarah DiegnanInterior design: Tamara Dinsmore, Chanda Capelli, Susanne LeBlanc, Carmen Carrasco, David Lou 

Design Firm

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Project Area

226,000 sq. ft.


Br. William Woeger (liturgical consultant), Rev. Ron Schmidt (sacred art and design), Marirose Jelicich (liturgical metalwork)


Enclos/Pohl (Omega window), Thomas Swan Sign Co. (signage fabrication and threshholds), Tortorelli Creations (Ambry screen), Mare Island Woodworks (reconciliation screens and chairs), Marirose Jelicich (consecration candles), Andrew Bonnette (bronzework), Tice Industries (doors and door pulls)