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New Los Angeles Cathedral Opens - 2002-08-31

The newest Los Angeles landmark, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, will open Monday after six years of planning and contruction. It was designed by a Spanish architect, Jose Rafael Moneo. The architect blended European traditions with themes from modern California.

Among the first European buildings in California were Catholic missions designed by Spanish colonists. Coincidentally, the noted Madrid architect was chosen for the project over his famous American rivals, including the prominent Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry.

Meeting with reporters Friday, Mr. Moneo said the complex is both a sacred and secular space, as all cathedrals are. This cathedral, however, does not tower above a European city and historic waterway, but over the Hollywood Freeway. The site in the heart of the city contains a one-hectare plaza, which will host various activities. "Those that are the ingredients of public life: the shops, the cafe, the services in the center, the space for reflection in the plaza," he said. "I would very much like the building to be open to all the Angelenos [residents of Los Angeles] maintaining this character of public buildings."

The design is reminiscent of California's Spanish colonial missions, which were built of earth-colored abobe. The new cathedral is constructed of concrete of a similar light-brown color, its windows high above the floor to fill the church with light. In addition to the California mission influence, the architect says he was inspired by the Byzantine, Romanesque and baroque designs of European churches.

But this design is modern. Nick Roberts worked on-site to implement the architect's vision, which he says is distinctive. He notes that Mr. Moneo has created a structure with dynamic, unorthodox lines. "There is not a single right angle in the building, as you see," he said. "We used to joke with the contractor that if they find a right angle it must be a mistake. So we had to make extensive use of 3D computer modeling to lay out the building and to the tell the contractor how to place the building."

Architect Leo Daly runs the Washington-based firm that worked with Mr. Moneo on the design. Mr. Daly says the cathedral, near the Los Angeles Music Center and the Disney Concert Hall, which is now under construction, will help revitalize the city. The cathedral complex contains outdoor fountains and a meditation garden. "On one side is the freeway," said Leo Daly. "We think of it as a river and having that open feeling over to the mountains, and so forth. And the avenues are quite wide in this part of town. And we hope that this part of town will have motion picture theaters, more restaurants, people will come to the Music Center and stay a while. People will come here in the middle of the day, government workers and office workers from surrounding areas, and meditate here in this wonderful garden during the middle of the day."

Jose Rafael Moneo says few architects are given the chance to design such buildings, which reflect traditional values in a city that is a symbol of modern culture. The new cathedral is the seat of the Los Angeles archbishop and will be a center for Catholic church activities. It will also host concerts and conferences and serve as a gathering place for the city's people.

The complex became a civic landmark immediately on its completion and design experts say it has changed the face of downtown Los Angeles.

The new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles will be dedicated Monday, September 2 and will be open to the public on Tuesday.