He said that his strategy will be "essentially to conserve and restore the exterior" of the cathedral, which is made of more than 10,000 panes of glass, and that "the new architecture will really be in the refashioning of the operational aspects and the interior elements of the shell."
Johnson was in the office of the Crystal Cathedral's original designer, Philip Johnson, when the building was being created in the late 1970s and worked on parts of it then, giving him a particular familiarity with it.
"Something of very intense interest architecturally, is that the building was conceived as an evangelical building, one of the first mega-churches…and then further it has a very unique history because of Reverend (Robert) Schuller and his beginning years of giving sermons to the out of doors."
He explained that Schuller "wanted a building that was both a building and not a building, so that in a sense he could be in an enclosure, but it would be as if he were out of doors, which is where he began his ministry: so this building was an entire shell of glass."
"As we think now about a Catholic cathedral, our initial thoughts that it is really so different from that in so many ways, and it's meditative, it's processional, it's focused. The evangelical life it had was somewhat of a production studio, as a television ministry: that aspect really isn't relevant here."
The goal in the transformation process will be to "maintain the wonder and beauty" of the cathedral's structure and light, he said, while at the same time seeking "to modify it slightly in some ways, to make it more appropriate for Masses, Catholic devotionals, reading, hymnals."
Having maintained the glass shell of the cathedral, Johnson Fain will "significantly rework the bottom: everything from the mezzanine seating down to the ground level."
"There are some very interesting ways we might do that, and in the process we will look at how the altar and the sanctuary should be laid out. But I believe that whole bottom register will change meaningfully, all inside the shell of the original glass building."
Neither Johnson nor Rios are Catholic, though Rios' partner on the project, Frank Clement, is. Rios is himself Episcopalian, and Johnson has worked before on a Benedictine monastery. They both said they will be asking many questions throughout the design process, and it was pointed out that Brother William Woeger, director of the Omaha archdiocese's office for divine worship, is a liturgical consultant in the operation.
"The beginning of the process is listening, and that's absolutely true: there will be weeks and months of listening," Johnson said.
Among the concerns included in the re-design is the acoustics of the cathedral, ensuring that modifications "will allow people to both understand the spoken word as well as musical celebration." The cathedral is currently carpeted, and Johnson said that the existing carpet will be removed and may be replaced with an alternative floor surface.
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He concluded that the "many ways to look" at the site of the Crystal Cathedral, including its status as a tourist destination, "will also continue…which will make it an extremely exciting design problem."
Rios reflected that "we're both really excited to make this an inclusive place for the Catholic community of Orange County, and the Catholic community has a lot of wonderful, sort of diverse communities within it."
"One of the things I'm looking forward to is to really understand the slight…differences, or celebrations that may happen from one Catholic community to another, and how to find a place for those," he said.
"The Latin Catholic community may have celebrations the Vietnamese Catholic community may not have, and vice versa; so our job is to really understand all of those and look at all the overlaps, and make sure there are spaces for all those kinds of really wonderful rituals to happen."