Crystal Cathedral, Garden Grove, California
Tribute by Jeffrey Sward
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qp city, state Photograph by Jeffrey Sward qp city, state Photograph by Jeffrey Sward
qp city, state Photograph by Jeffrey Sward qp city, state Photograph by Jeffrey Sward
qp city, state Photograph by Jeffrey Sward qp city, state Photograph by Jeffrey Sward

Televangelist Robert Schuller (1926 - 2015) created a ministerial empire which ultimately became unsustainable. in 1955 Schuller founded the "Garden Grove Community Church" which held services win a drive-in movie theatre. In the late 1950s Schuller began buying land in Garden Grove which eventually would grow into a 40 acre property. Schuller had and appreciation for architecture. With cubic dollars and an ability to identify prominent architects, Schuller embarked on an astonishing building program spanning decades. The resulting architectural ensemble surpasses any other site in Orange County.

Architect Year Building
Richard Neutra 1962 Arboretum with original sanctuary
Dion Neutra 1968 Tower of Hope (office building with top floor chapel)
Philip Johnson 1980 Crystal Cathedral (now Christ Cathedral)
Gin Wong 1990 Family Life Center (now pastoral center and academy)
Philip Johnson 1990 Crean Tower Campanile
Richard Meier. 2002 International Center for Possibility Thinking (hospitality and visitors center)
Scott Johnson 2019 Redesign of Crystal Cathedral interior

The crystal cathedral was the magnum opus of mega minister Robert Schuller and architect Philip Johnson. The building has over 10,000 panes of glass supported by a truss system. The crystal cathedral opened in 1980.

[Architect Philip Johnson produced a] triumphant landmark of Southern California kitsch, at 415 feet wide, 207 feet deep, and 128 feet high, bigger than Notre Dame in Paris. A giant asymmetrical mirrored-glass iceberg of a building, [1]

In 2006 Schuller began retirement. After a series of food fights among Schuller and his heir successors, the ministry encountered difficult financial times. Eventually the ministry declared bankruptcy in 2010. The Catholic Church acquired the complete Garden Grove property in 2012 via bankruptcy court. A redesign of the crystal cathedral started in 2012 and was completed in 2019. The new name for the building is Christ Cathedral. Scott Johnson had the dubious assignment of redesigning the interior of the Chrystal Cathedral to Catholic specifications. Scott Johnson and Philip Johnson are not related to each other.

Here, to put it mildly, was another classic odd-couple pairing: the Catholic Church cast as architectural savior for a building whose power flows directly from its cheekiness, its irony, its willingness to flout convention, its telegenic savvy and perhaps most of all its understanding of what postwar Southern California was making possible in terms of cultural innovation and individual freedom. It would be an understatement to say that those are not qualities one associates with many chapters in the long history of Catholic architecture. [1]

Cooling was, not surprisingly, a big issue in a building that is basically a greenhouse for humans. The climate was theoretically regulated by a convective cooling system that drew in cooler air at its base and emitted hot air via a chimney above. [...] Interior temperatures were measured as high as 110 degrees. [...] There was also a tremendous amount of glareā€”old images show people in the pews with sunglasses on. This problem was most acute in mornings and evenings (which happens to be when masses are held). Nightfall would bring other problems. "At night, it was difficult to illuminate," Scott Johnson said. "The glass doesn't reflect back; it just goes out of the building into outer space." And the acoustics were poor, because glass is highly resonant. [2]

The main solution was the introduction of hundreds of "quatrefoil" shades. Each qutrefoil consists of four triangles arranged at different angles to form a square. The quatrefoils have reflective material facing the outside and acoustic tile facing the inside. Quatrefoils elegantly fixed cooling, glare, lighting, and acoustic problems. The introduction of quatrefoils also made a travesty of the original architecture.

The project sustained pressure from all directions: preservationists, who worried the renovation would destroy the campus's architecture; followers of Schuller, who thought it was disgracing his memory; and Catholics, disturbed by the complex's Modernism or its cost. [2]

Visit Christ Cathedral (Crystal Cathedral) web site.

[1] Hawthorne, Christopher. "The Crystal Cathedral Redesign: Why Tasteful Updates Add up to Architectural Disappointment." Los Angeles Times, 17 Nov. 2016, /entertainment/arts /la-ca-cm-crystal-cathedral-20161120-htmlstory.html.

[2] Paletta, Anthony. "The Rebirth of the OC's Crystal Cathedral." CityLab, 13 Sept. 2019, /design/2019/09 /crystal-christ-cathedral-robert-schuller-philip-johnson /597022/ .


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