Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is the third-largest cathedral in the world, and the first to be built in the United States in over a quarter of a century.
Af Kirsten Kiser
Approaching downtown Los Angeles on the Hollywood Freeway — the former Camino Real route used by Spanish missionaries in the 18th century — the grand scale of this adobe-colored concrete building with its 15-foot-tall campanile (bell tower) and tall, altar-backing cross become visible.
The large Cathedral Square is only accessible through gates along Temple Street or from the underground parking structure. A “carillon wall”, with bells reminiscent of Mission-style churches, faces the street.
Moneo was very conscious of not wanting the entrance to the cathedral to be directly on the street. From Temple Street visitors travel a spiritual path, each step a transition from the secular to the sacred: through a lower plaza, up the grand staircase, through the upper plaza and on toward the great 25-ton bronze doors crowned by a contemporary statue of the Virgin.
Proceeding through the monumental doors — designed by Los Angeles sculptor Robert Graham — visitors enter the 200-foot-long south ambulatory, which runs the length of the cathedral from east to west.
Passages between a row of asymmetrical chapels lining the ambulatory frame views of the main sanctuary.
Turning right at the end of the ambulatory, past a 17th-century Spanish Baroque altarpiece, visitors enter the huge 58,000 square foot nave, with seating for 3,000 people. Light flooding in through the east window silhouettes the large concrete cross above the altar. The organ is the largest pipe organ west of the Mississippi.
The walls are of polished concrete, the 85-foot-high ceiling of cedarwood, the floors of Spanish sand-colored limestone, and the pews of wood. The soaring space is illuminated by windows composed of 24,000 feet of thinly veined Spanish alabaster.
The figures in the 27 earth-colored tapestries — designed by John Nava — include contemporary teenagers as well as canonized saints. Lamps above the pews, resembling downward aiming trumpets, hold small speakers and light bulbs. The baptismal font is of black granite.
Along the wall in the north ambulatory, a long window reveals a cloister garden full of oak and sycamore trees that, once grown, will shade the walkways and fountain.
Moneo had very little influence on the 24,000-square-foot rectory for the archbishop, resident clergy, and visitors, and the 46,000-square-foot conference center and offices located at the eastern end of the site.
One of the most challenging requirements is for the new cathedral to withstand the test of time. The project team used advanced strategies to achieve a lifespan of no less than 500 years for the structure and building systems.
The building has been designed to withstand an 8.4 point Richter scale earthquake (not yet experienced in Los Angeles). The entire building sits on base isolators, which means that the whole building can move about 24 inches in each direction during earthquakes. The hole with the isolator pads is covered by an overlapping site floor that would allow the building to move back and forth during an earthquake.