Architecture Monday

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Continuing my trip through Los Angles, tonight we stop at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Designed by Raphael Moneo, it, like many a cathedral, is an impressive and imposing and powerful space. It also, like the Sagrada Família, is decidedly untraditional in its language and the sculpting of its space. Yet, at the same time it also most decidedly follows in lockstep the long tradition and form of the catholic cathedral, with a powerful nave filled with light from high-set glazing (here done in wonderful translucent alabaster panels rather than stained glass (and I say wonderful despite being a stained glass fan!)) with aisles on each side accessed through a permeable structure.

The structure here, however, is non-symmetrical and also possesses a thickness and depth to its form that is quite different from the gothic norm of a row of columns and vaults. This mass heightens the solidity and “specialness” of the nave, and intensifies the experience of the traversal into the sacred space. It also inverts the idea of chapels in the apse or aisles facing inward; here, from the aisles these blocks are carved out to form the alcoves (also illuminated from above) that contain chapels, exhibitions, confessionals, or, still striking, nothing at all.

Architecture doesn’t need to copy a look to be related to the past and to its history, or to the history of the institution, or the region, or the surrounding buildings. Along with being a good work in its own right, this cathedral is a great illustration of that principle. It carries the heart of the tradition in its bones, expressed in a new, dynamic, and ultimately satisfying way. And along the way it creates new moments and opportunities, enriching the canon and adding something to the dialogue and journey that is architecture.

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