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Commentary

A Cathedral of, and for, Los Angeles

Archdiocese: The site will be a new spiritual center amid cultural and civic landmarks.

September 22, 1996|JOS RAFAEL MONEO | Jose Rafael Moneo is architect for the new cathedral

Los Angeles is fortunate to have not one but several wonderful potential sites for its new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Though each of the competing sites has distinctive and compelling attributes, I believe that the site at Grand Avenue and Temple Street, announced last week, is the preferred choice. This location clearly offers those very important and particular characteristics that I believe the cathedral site requires.

The cathedral's role as the archdiocese's liturgical and spiritual center provides the starting point for my analysis.

The fundamental challenge is to find a location that places the church in its proper cultural and civic milieu but which also is sufficiently separate and independent of these temporal concerns. A church surrounded by civic facilities, particularly one as prominent as City Hall, cannot achieve the independence that great churches need to provide spiritual respite. On the other hand, a cathedral that stands by itself, removed from civic and cultural centers, puts the church too far from its proper role in everyday life.

The preferred site strikes a perfect balance. It is very much "downtown," connected to the cultural and civic fabric of the city. It fronts on Grand Avenue, the home of many of the most exciting and well-recognized buildings in the city. Yet its borders are clear and distinct, providing an unmistakable sense of independence. The freeway to the north and the Hall of Administration (oriented to face in the other direction) act as bookends, placing the cathedral in its own place in the heart of the city. Equally important, this independence will continue regardless of how the adjacent sites change through the years.

I also have been struck by how Angelenos live in and with their environments, not insulated or protected as required in harsher climates. Again, from this perspective the selected site excels. This site is at the top of Bunker Hill, clearly visible to thousands who travel on the freeways or who live and work to the north. I envision a cathedral that is a prominent part of the urban landscape, a permanent reminder of God's presence in our midst. It will be visible from many points to many people.

Other factors are in favor of the site. It is the largest of the available sites, offering more opportunity for independence and prominence in the urban core. Its elongated shape--in contrast to the square shape of the alternative sites--offers more opportunities for pedestrian and vehicular access. It is easily accessible by bus and metro.

The various sites near City Hall are well suited for developments that encourage pedestrian flows. But a cathedral is not merely a tourist destination; it must be a spiritual home. The City Hall sites are too small and too close to insulate persons seeking spiritual respite from the political and temporal businesses conducted nearby. At the chosen site, the cathedral will most certainly be free-standing, as it should be.

I very much look forward to this opportunity to design the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in this remarkable city.

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