Photo: Timothy Hursley; Cesar Rubio Photography; John Blaustein Photography

Extraordinary Timber Cathedral Uses Unique Structural System

The soaring 36,000-square-foot Cathedral of Christ The Light features a space-frame structure comprised of a glulam and steel-rod skeleton veiled with a glass skin. Given the close proximity of fault lines and non-conformance of the design to a standard California Building Code lateral system, the City of Oakland hired a peer review committee to review the design for toughness and ductility.

Through the use of advanced seismic engineering, including base isolation, the structure has been designed to withstand a 1,000-year earthquake.

Project Details

The traditional techniques used in ancient churches and temples, with their high-vaulted ceilings, sweeping curves and enduring strength, still influence today’s structures. The hallmarks of heavy timber—prominent wood beams and timbers—now also include elegant, leaner framing that celebrates the expression of structure with a natural material. A visual emphasis on beams, purlins and connections lends character and a powerful aesthetic sense of strength.

Historically a handcrafted skill of mortise and tenon joinery, heavy timber construction has been modernized by tools such as CNC machines, highstrength engineered wood products, and mass-production techniques. A growing environmental awareness that recognizes wood as the only renewable and sustainable structural building material is also invigorating this type of construction.

Heavy timbers are differentiated from dimensional lumber by having minimum dimensions required by the building code. Modern versions include sawn stress-grade lumber, timber tongue and groove decking, glued-laminated timber (glulam), parallel strand lumber (PSL), laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and cross laminated timber (CLT). Structural laminated products can be used as solid walls, floors and columns to construct an entire building.

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