I find music boxes enchanting, especially the small glass cases where you can watch the cylinder spin its tune like a lazy water wheel. It’s as if someone opened the top, held it up to the wind, and captured a simple melody floating by. Maybe this is why I find the concept of a glass church so appealing. Welcome to California’s Crystal Cathedral.
Whether or not you liked Phillip Johnson’s Glass House from a couple of posts ago (survey says “not”), you’ll concede he was creative in his use of glass. The Crystal Cathedral is, by far, his most impressive example. When it was constructed in 1980, it was immediately dubbed the largest glass church in the world. By a mile.
Johnson designed the Cathedral (partnering with architect John Burgee) for Dr. Robert Schuller. Rev. Schuller was a televangelist in the 1970s, beginning his ministry by preaching to carloads from atop the refreshment stand of a Southern California drive-in theater. The proceeds of his Sunday morning “Hour of Power” financed the Cathedral, on a property Schuller called a “22-acre shopping center for Jesus Christ”. As for the building itself, Schuller declared, “If a two-by-four comes between your eyeball and the changing edge of a cloud, something is lost”. Hence, he demanded a glass church.
The Crystal Cathedral is impressive enough to look at from the surrounding parking lot; a flattened diamond floor plan covered with 10,000 rectangle panels of glued-on mirrored glass. But walk inside – and believe me, it’s a walk – passing beneath the floating bleachers of pews and choir lofts into the explosion of the sanctuary itself, and you’ll understand why the Cathedral really “shines”. The space is so vast that – like some of today’s enclosed football stadiums – you’ll swear you’re still outside.
The Crystal Cathedral is a glass music box of sorts. Its organ is the fifth-largest in the world, with 16,000 pipes. Its choir numbers into the hundreds of voices. Needless to say, the church service needs to be grand to satisfy a room of 2,500 parishioners.
As much as I prefer a modest venue for worship, I can appreciate the megachurch approach if it’s done with a modicum of grace. I’m not sure this is the case with the Crystal Cathedral. Down the center aisle you’ll find a long reflecting pool, spotted with gushing fountains that suddenly cease when Schuller appears at the pulpit. A pair of towering “Cape Canaveral” doors behind the altar swing open, so Schuller can give a wave and a prayer to the masses parked outside. And in a full-on nod to Broadway, the Cathedral’s annual “Glory of Christmas” pageant includes a smoke machine for storm simulations, seven flying angels, and scores of live animals (everything from camels to water buffaloes). Should this surprise me, in the cavernous glass box of a world-famous televangelist?
The Crystal Cathedral is open to the public… er, if you’re willing to take in a Catholic Mass while you’re at it. Schuller’s Reformed Church ministry filed for bankruptcy in 2010 (in part because of the overwhelming operating costs of the facility). Schuller himself died in 2015. Soon after, the local Catholic diocese purchased the property at a deep discount and renamed it “Christ Cathedral”. I hope the fountains, spaceship doors, and Broadway shows have taken a break since then. After all, the building itself is ample reason for reflection.
Now for the latest on LEGO Fallingwater…
LEGO Fallingwater – Update #9 (Read how this project got started in Perfect Harmony)
We worked off-model again this week, on the house itself, assembling one floor at a time before everything comes together. 80 pages (or 88%, or 203 minutes) into the build, this is what we have:
It’s convenient to halt the construction for this photo, because you can see the individual floors before they’re stacked together and hidden. The level in the foreground is the bottom story, with the living room in back and smooth decks in front and to the right. The other level is the middle story, a bedroom with smaller balconies to the left and right.
Next week I’ll assemble the top (and final) level, a “gallery” whose use was as much for the surrounding views as for the interior space. Then I’ll stack the floors together, insert them into the open space you see to the right of the glass tower, and our Fallingwater model will finally be complete.
Tune in next Thursday as construction continues! Now for another nod to Frank Lloyd Wright…
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
Since we toured a cathedral today, it seems only fitting we acknowledge one of Wright’s handful of religious structures. Wauwatosa, Wisconsin’s Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church was one of his last designs, not completed until after his death in 1959. Wright consulted his wife (who was raised in the faith) on its important symbols. Accordingly, the dome and the Greek cross play significantly in the building design. The structural arches and pillars reflected on the exterior allow the sanctuary to be an uninterrupted circular space. The dome is not as you would imagine the interior to be, but rather the cap on an inverted dome, reflecting as a sort of bowl suspended above the sanctuary.
Lest you think Annunciation Church is a bit of a spaceship, the design intentionally pulls elements from its more famous predecessor, Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church is included on America’s National Register of Historic Places.
Some content sourced from Johnson/Burgee: Architecture, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.