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The Crystal Cathedral redesign: Why tasteful updates add up to architectural disappointment

A view of the Christ Cathedral design proposal by Johnson Fain. (Shimahara Illustrations)
A view of the Christ Cathedral design proposal by Johnson Fain. (Shimahara Illustrations)

Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne evaluates plans by Johnson Fain to remake the Crystal Cathedral, Philip Johnson's temple of 1980s glory in Garden Grove:

I was surprised, amused and briefly heartened when I arrived for a news briefing a few weeks ago inside the stripped-down, renamed Christ Cathedral to find diocese media officials handing out virtual-reality headsets. Were Johnson Fain and the Catholic Church ready to embrace the same kind of trippy futurism that Philip Johnson and Robert Schuller had? Was this another strange combination of client, building and architect that would in the end pay exhilarating dividends?

No such luck. What we all saw when we strapped those headsets on was a digitized version of the remade cathedral interior that is heavy, earthbound and handsome to a fault.

It is a design more suggestive of the offices of a high-end law firm than the kinds of early experiments in postmodernism that Johnson was beginning to pursue when he met Schuller.

Christopher Hawthorne

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