An incredible church renovation

A commenter at this post about the Crystal Cathedral suggested they hire the architect who did the renovations below to transform the space.

In a word: wow.

You can see more here. The architect is Duncan G. Stroik.


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76 responses to “An incredible church renovation”

  1. Renovation is Latin for “making new again.” Taking an admittedly stunningly ugly church back to the 1950s ad orientem with opera stage set pillars is not my idea of renovation. Make my wow a whoa. But the theatrical style would probably work in the Crystal Cathedral—though the Diocese of Orange is not going ad orientem any time soon.

  2. Stroik is a one-size-fits-all neoclassicist. I cannot conceive of how to make such a design fit a hypermodern building like the Crystal Cathedral, says the former director of a design review board (i.e., me).

  3. I look at that first picture and I’m whisked back to 1978. All churches seemed to look that way back then. It must have been so disconcerting for my parents and grandparents.

  4. wow – really??

    Catholic means being in context with the modern world, to give answers to the questions which people have today. This redesign may give people a superficial feeling of comfort and familiarity but it is an expression of a church which lives in the past and retreats into protected zones and not of a church which wants to shape the future and become its soul.

    Richard from Austria

  5. Relax, people– it’s only ad orientem if Father is going to stand on the flowers.

    I can’t understand why people have to see some sort of reactionary roll-back into every little thing. (Or from the other end of the spectrum, why people need to see Church persecution or smoke of Satan if somebody offers music written after 1900.)

  6. If you look at the link to the other website you can see very clearly that the altar is arranged to say Mass facing the congregation. There are six candles and a crucifix on the “people’s side” of the altar.

  7. When I talked with lead diocesan attorney Tim Busch for my article on the Crystal Cathedral (, I asked him specifically about the architect they would choose. We discussed Duncan Stroik,
    who is, of course, the grand poobah of classical church architecture. Decisions re. the redesign are still not finalized, and I think they’ll choose someone of equal stature from the California area; but Stroik’s visionary approach is certainly appreciated in Orange County.
    Since the Schuller family will continue to use the worship space for up to three years, a more immediate need will be remodeling of the various other buildings, which have some significant needs and which will become chancery offices.

  8. Really gorgeous renovation. I’m quite curious to see what the good folks who purchased the Crystal Cathedral are going to do with that curious architectural curiosity. Hiring Mr. Stroik is a good start!

  9. One design says humility and simplicity of design, one says majesty and tradition. All of these four qualities are noble and beautiful.

  10. To me, the most successful renovations are those which fit so seamlessly that someone going into the building for the first time without knowing the history, would think that it had been designed that way from the beginning.
    I remember some truly awful renovations in the ’70’s; the burnt orange burlap wall treatment and the olive green shag carpet. Thank God that has mostly gone away. The renovation shown here is certainly much better than that. But it looks like what it is, which is a retrofit. I think the Orange, CA congregation needs to keep looking for their architect.

  11. It’s lovely. Reminds me of the church I grew up in, which was built in the 1920s.

    The “Before” shot remind me of the church I am in now, which was built in the 1980s. It’s an exact replica. Enough said!

  12. The picture angle is not good, but I guess you are right about there being a space between the wall and the altar.

    The only music we have in our church was either written before 1900, or sounds like it was written before 1900.

  13. I would be interested in seeing a shot of this church from farther back in the nave, to put the sanctuary in context.

    Granted, the “before” photo is incredibly lackluster. However, the “after” photo looks like a lot of faux classical elements were dumped into a 1970s structure.

    You can’t make contemporary buildings looks old, nor can you make old buildings look contemporary. It just doesn’t work.

  14. I would think more of a ” digression “. Return it to a ” beauty of holiness ” ?
    It doesn’t matter what the church looks like on the outside or the inside it’s what goes on ” inside the building “. Check out : Hebrews 7 : 26-28 for starters.
    “” One “” sacrifice !! . There is no need for daily offering of sacrifice. The rcc has simply re-invented the Levitical priest hood system. Tens of thousands of times every day around the world. Sola scriptura / sola fide / sola gratia.

  15. Of course, the problems with your comment are at least two fold:

    First, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not a reenactment or new sacrifice. It is part of the one, single sacrifice of our Lord on Calvary. It is done in accord with his direct instruction “Do This in Memory of Me.” it was done by St. Paul and is described in his letters as well as in the writings of the earliest Church Fathers (cf. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Justin Martyr.) to attack the Mass as being unChristian is to have a profound lack of understanding of Christian worship and what Christ taught.

    Second, to claim “sola scriptura” as a basis for faith fails immediately because the term “sola scriptura” appears no where in Scripture. In fact, we can’t even know what Scripture is without Tradition. You wish to claim that your bible is the sole authority, well your bible neither claims that right NOR does it state what it is. There is no table of contents, so without Tradition, we can neither say Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are canonical gospels nor that Thomas, Peter or Judas aren’t. Without Sacred Tradition, there simply is no basis for your faith.

    Likewise, there is no basis for “sola file,” for in spite of Martin Luther’s desperate desire to eliminate the Letter of James and others, it is clear from both this and the book of Revelation that works are necessary because they are the outward signs of faith.

  16. Maybe I am weird or less observant than others, but I never really worried about the “beauty” of the altar or the church. I tended to focus and still focus on the beauty of the mass. Either of the altars presented would have worked for me.
    I can appreciate the beauty of both, in their own way. Like I said maybe that makes me weird. I don’t know.

  17. As an Architect, all I can say is YUCK. It’s terrible. It’s fake.

    It’s sad that this is what our religion has become. Fake, false, and ugly.

  18. Yes, truly a Catholic Church again. Shows in stark contrast what was done to Catholic Churches all over this country if you reversed the pictures and had the colored lights per season blinking with a couple of clowns. Love the tabernacle back where it is supposed to be and the Crucifix center stage as a reminder it is indeed the sacrifice of the Mass. Wonderful job. One down, and a thousand more to go. All the money spent foolishly in the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II distortion. How foolish and sad. That was my concern about the diocese going after the crystal cathedral as it seemed to be going in the wrong direction.

  19. Paul, are you talking about the picture with the green lights? If so you are correct, it was YUK. And this new seems to be a return to a church that is true and beautiful which one would hope to see in a building that was built to give glory and honor to God.

  20. Selah…

    Catholic teaching honors both tradition and scripture.

    From the catechism:

    “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.”

    As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”

    You are free to disagree. But that’s what we believe and hold to be true.

    Dcn. G.

  21. The bottom line is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Added to this is the (perpetual) disagreement about what constitutes good liturgy.

  22. Catholic means being in context with the modern world, to give answers to the questions which people have today.

    Um, since when? FWIW, “catholic” means “universal”. The Catholic Church continues to be informed by nearly two millennia of tradition. If anything, being Catholic means *not* being sucked into the temporary fads of the modern world, and giving answers to the questions that all people everywhere have had at every time, not just those peculiar to the present age.

  23. Respectfully Will,

    The Catholic view is not “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” instead it is actually “beauty is in the object beheld.”

    The Good, the Beautiful, and the True are all things that are Absolutes and rooted in God. They are also knowable to man within the natural limits of our created nature.

  24. Selah,
    So you don’t even believe enough in the Scriptures to care what they say aside from a few lines you’ve ripped out of context? You can’t claim to believe in sola scriptura and then ignore the scriptural letter of James or all 4 Gospels and Paul’s letters that clearly relate Jesus turning bread into his body and wine into his precocious blood and then commanding (not suggesting) that his followers continue to do this. Your comments remind me of the old saying “text, without context, is a pretext.”

  25. Am I missing something? I see flowers in front of the altar, thus indicating that it couldn’t be ad orientem. If jkm doesn’t like it, that’s fine. But no need to bring out some bug a boo in an attempt to frame the conversation.

  26. You make a good point. More elaborate is not necessarily better. Years ago I visited the San Miguel church in Santa Fe, NM, which is reputed to be the oldest church in the United States. It was very simple and plain, also very moving.

  27. This is where I struggle with this. On the one hand, I understand the need to create a suitable environment worthy of our Lord and King – then I think of the environment God chose to introduce Him to the world – a stable…

  28. Since many of the churches built in the 1960s 70s resemble Burger Kings more than a house of worship, I think the second picture shows an edifice much more conducive to the worship of God. Those green lights in the first picture–what were they thinking?

  29. The top photo looks like my church. I tell my wife all the time, that when we hit the lottery, we’re gonna make our Pastor (who’s extremely Liberal), an offer that he can’t refuse to let us renovate our church the way a Catholic Church should look.

  30. Actualy, Will, it is. It’s on it’s way and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. The deck stacked by Benedict himself in the next conclave will choose a successor who will take it further.

    Don’t worry – by the time it is fully restored next to the Novus Ordo and more and more folks born post-Vatican II vote with their feet to support it (as is alreay happening with 18-35 y.o. Catholics, you (and I) will be dead.

  31. The architect responsible for this most amazing transformation could spend the rest of his natural life bringing about more of the same to really ugly, sterile Catholic churchs through out North America!

    BRAVO, great work! It’s put the sacred back in church where it belongs.

  32. I like our little parish church which is 100 years old and the traditional style with stained glass etc. I also like the church across town which is more the modern style. It is possible that the parishioners who go to one of the “really ugly, sterile” churches might not think it is ugly and sterile. Or might feel that even if it is, that it is THEIR ugly sterile church; and resent an outsider coming in and telling them it was ugly and sterile and spiffing it up for them. And may also resent being asked to pony up the bucks for the bling.
    It is possible to spend a lot of energy, angst, and money on appearances and neglect some more fundamental problems.

  33. It looks like a baldacchino to me! Not an add on or faux anything. I don’t think Neubau architecture belongs in sacred spaces. It doesn’t add and brings the vista down to us.

  34. If you go to the blog, the discussion is about how wonderful it is to celebrate ad orientem. I didn’t make it up. The shot with the flowers looks like the architect’s portfolio pic, not how the church is used.

  35. To be honest, I am not fond of either of them – the one on the top “before” is rather bland and looks like a community hall and the one on the botton “after” looks like a stage set instead of a sanctuary.

  36. You know what will happen in the future? It seems to me that some supreme court justices turned out to be quite different than suspected. Pope John XXIII was supposed to be a caretaker pope. You listen to Father Z too much.

  37. “It is possible that the parishioners who go to one of the “really ugly, sterile” churches might not think it is ugly and sterile.”

    And it’s possible they put up with it because they have no choice.

    It’s not that the new renovation is perfect. But we can certainly say that the original interior, like so many of its 60-80’s contemporaries, is deficient in certain aspects of sacred architecture. It’s utterly stripped of any sacred art or iconography. This was never true of even the most austere monastic chapels. It’s iconoclastic, pervaded by a mistrust of any sacred art, save possibly a dash of something highly abstract.

    There is, in short, nothing to distinguish the old interior as Catholic.

  38. On the whole, Stroik’s design represents a massive improvement over the iconoclastic industrial austerity-meets-community meeting center aesthetic of the old interior. There is nothing at all Catholic about the original. It could be Methodist. It could be Episcopalian. It could be Presbyterian.

    There are minor quibbles, and it is hard to know how much was dictated by the limitations of the structure. It’s usually not felicitous to put pipe organs around the sanctuary; it may be that there was nowhere else to put them, however. One would also like to see more sacred art, and the altar is a little smaller than one might like to see.

    It’s also difficult to see how altar rails could be added to this sanctuary – the one key element still lacking. But I realize that even in the current wave of restoration, most reformers are still not quite ready to take the altar rail plunge. Well – in due time. Step by step.

  39. There is certainly a subjective element in evaluating art.

    But what is not subjective is the need for Catholic worship space to look… Catholic. And there is nothing at all to distinguish the original as Catholic. Nothing. It could be almost any mainline Protestant church built in the 70’s. There is virtually *no* sacred art. It’s iconoclastic.

  40. Oh, I remember this. It was ‘Church in a Kit’ – right next to ‘Windmill in a Kit’ and ‘Lighthouse in a Kit’ at Michael’s (CA craft store chain). It’s a sign of regaining health, I suppose, the patient is getting his appetite back and maybe jello and toast is progress – but it isn’t a meal. Or, it’s our Las Vegas – where they have replicated European buildings and monuments (‘hey, you don’t need to go to Paris anymore!’). This isn’t architecture any more than that is.

  41. Duncan Stroik, I should have known. I was blessed to see a beautiful presentation on church architecture at a Catholic conference way back. He showed a rendering of a spanish styled church that a certain order had planned to build, but the L A archdiocese shot it down. Come to find out it was for my own parish in Los Angeles. We got stuck with a church that the archdiocese had its own contractors do that started to literally fall apart within 2 yrs of construction. The order had to sue to have the repairs done properly.

    He truely is an uplifting architect in the relm of things sacred.

  42. I certainly “see” the need!!!
    But as a retired architect, this certainly sets ‘authentic’ architecture way back.
    There are certainly ways to satisfy the ‘need’ visually, without being ‘overly dramatic.’

  43. What are the distinguishing features of a Catholic church? Should we only replicate features of older churches? Some of the churches people think are wonderful were innovative in their time.

    I agree that there are a lot of older churches that are very beautiful. The church I attend was built in 1889. I agree that many older churches and cathedrals in Europe (and US) are beautiful. I also find beauty in Unity Temple in Oakpark, IL, designed by FL Wright. How about churches and missions in the SW US? How about the stave churches in Norway?

  44. No need to struggle. He was born in a stable, but did not refuse the regal gifts of the Magi. He chose to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey but did not stop people from laying their coats and palms on the road before Him. He was invited to dinner and reprimanded his host for not washing his feet when Mary Magdalen (I think) washed them with her hair. What “HE” chooses is up to Him. What we choose is up to us. If we choose to give Him a stable now, I think that says something. We have to keep in mind also that Mass is a bridge between earthly and heavenly reality, a link of the past to the present to the future glory. Shall our churches be rugged, heavy crosses and our tabernacles cold stone tombs, because he chose them for himself? God forbid!

    ….I”m not sure the classical style is well suited to the Crystal Cathedral. But I’m not sure about the Crystal Cathedral to begin with.

  45. While I really, really, really dislike the original church, and I appreciate the general sensibilities of the renovation (including the accommodation of ad orientem), I have to say that the new sanctuary just doesn’t go. The problem is not the new sanctuary. It’s the building surrounding it.

  46. If the Church is to lead and to shape the future, it also has to get unstuck from the 1970s. And it has to avoid following the trends and whims of the society it wishes to lead. In that sense, it has to be different and to stand against society on the points of difference. And not follow it.

  47. I’ve gone to the Tridentine Mass for the past 20 years. I prefer it because it is quiet. I love Gregorian Chant.

    That being said, I do NOT like Duncan Stroik’s renovation. It is pastiche, fake and has a hollow ring to it of a person who cannot create but can only mimic a “classic” look.

    As my college history teacher Eric Cochrane said – “Some people thought that the excessive ornamentation of the Baroque was pretty. They are like the people today who decorate their room with hubcaps and think that it is beautiful.”

    We live in a time when artists and architects have a very difficult time creating anything bespeaking the sacred within the historical cultural moment in which we live.

    I much prefer Gaudi’s Cathedral in Barcelona. It is the extension of an artist who believed deeply in Christ and struggled to come to terms with living his faith within the realities of his time.

    I’m dying with laughter from Gina C’s “Church in a Kit” comment at 11:15. Spot on. I am also reminded of those paper doll books where you dress the paper dolls in period pieces. Kitsch. Or should I write “Stroikitsh”?

  48. You should see the remodel we did. 1949 art deco that four previous pastors tried to fix. We gutted the sanctuary, put the tabernacle in the middle and built arches. Oak cabinetry with real marble inlays. It is Catholic and is not faddish as are the 70s.

  49. Authentic guy is right again. Does the Church pray well? It needs to be recognized as a house of prayer that highlights the Eucharist. Let’s face it, the previous church with funky green lights was a purposeful attempt at not being beautiful from a generation that oohs and ahhs at the Vatican Museum only to return to the USA and put up felt banners in the church, while marveling at the brass and marble at Dillards dept store.

    BTW, we remodeled our church without a LITURGIST?! I am already a priest.

  50. A pint for Paddy’s point!! You are welcome in my barrio anytime, just tell them you’re with me.

    Hey Will and Sam. Architecture originates from other sources, organic one might say. Beauty is in the object beheld. Architectural attempts are not always long lasting, e.g., Baroque, which lasted about 50 yrs. FL Wright was an atheist and built flat layered flat roofs so as to deny transcendence.

    The story I am about to say is true, please sit down.
    On Easter Sunday afternoon I was with relatives visiting a beautiful neo-Gothic parish on US 36 in Kansas just shy of Nebraska, St. Mary’s in St. Benedict, KS. While there, some ACs, Apostolic Christians, (similar to Mennonites perhaps) walked in through the doors. I said hello and asked if they wanted a little explanation tour. So, I explained a few Cathoilc things and asked why they came. They said, (this is the scary part), “We wanted to see something beautiful on Easer.”

  51. For another magnificent church renovation, look at, website of St. John the Baptist catholic church in Tryon, NC. Father Patrick Winslow was responsible for the renovation, with the majority of the beautiful wood paneling, gold leaf and stencils on the ceiling done by two college students who are members of the church. It is truly inspiring to be able to worship our Lord in a church worthy of Him.

  52. Great reply. Just wanted to add that there is nothing wrong with monastic simplicity, which is obviously very much a part of the Church’s Tradition, and has a holy beauty and place of its own. The crux of the devastation wrought in “sacred” achictecture from the 1960s onwards, however, was that sacred was not a motivation for the iconoclasts. Their work was not about holy simplicity, it had as its end rather the earthly satisfaction of “modern man”. The Church had to be “relevant”, that which was holy had to be hidden, and the direction forged was entirely earth-bound and protestant (meaning, that is, turned away from God and toward man). The results, so sadly, speak for themselves. We should be infinitely grateful that the devastating tide appears finally to have turned. May God bless Pope Benedict XVI (and all of those working toward restoration). Matt

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