Garden Grove Church
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Architect Johnson/Burgee
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Location Garden Grove, Los Angeles, California   map
Date 1978 to 1980   timeline
Building Type church
 Construction System glazed space frame walls and roof
Climate mild desert
Context suburban
Style Modern
Notes the "Crystal Cathedral". Entirely glazed envelope. symmetrical plan, asymmetrical section.






Lower Plan Drawing

Upper Plan Drawing

Discussion Garden Grove Church Commentary

"Perhaps the first and most famous megachurch was the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, home to the televangelism ministry of the Reverend Robert Schuller. Completed in phases, the main sanctuary was opened for services in 1980.

"Designed by Philip Johnson, this religious reinterpretation of the crystal palace is shaped like a four pointed star. The building is huge, measuring 207 by 415 feet (63 by 125 meters), and rising to a height of 128 feet (40 meters).

"Clad in mirrored glass over a uniform space frame, the design boasts passive solar heating and wind cooling obtained through operable strips of ventilating windows.

"Originally planned to be set in a park-like environment, the building now sits in a parking lot. Portions of the exterior walls open, allowing congregants to remain in their cars while viewing the worship service."

— Douglas R. Hoffman, "From Maybeck To Megachurches", ArchitectureWeek No. 61, 2001.0808, pC1.3.

"The original plan is basically a 4-pointed star, some 460ft by 200ft, reaching up to 128ft at its apex and thus bigger than Notre Dame in Paris. It is constructed with a triodetic steel frame, which serves as a gigantic chimney to provide natural cooling. The chancel, clad in white marble, can accommodate up to 3,000 people. The glass is reflective, allowing only 8 per cent of light and heat to penetrate and giving an atmosphere that has been described as subaqueous."

— Dennis Sharp. Twentieth Century Architecture: a Visual History. p365.

"The architects drew on their considerable experience with crystalline shapes and glass-covered galleries, as well as with auditoriums. The idea is to get people as close to the performance as possible, so, as John Burgee puts it, 'we squished the nave and pulled out the trancept.' Translated into primary geometries, it became a four-pointed star, with free-standing balconies in three points and the chancel in the fourth. The connection with reality is maintained through ten thousand panes of glass hung on a space-frame scaffolding like a gigantic transparent tent. From the outside its quartz-like facets shimmer in one another's mirrored surfaces and reflective pond below. Inside, the mood is hushed, the filtered light lending a cool expectant atmosphere."

— from Nory Miller. Johnson/Burgee: Architecture: The Buildings and Projects of Philip Johnson and John Burgee. p111.

The Creator's Words

"Criticised at the time of opening for offering a view of parked cars, Johnson perfunctorily replied that as people live in their cars all day long why should they be ashamed of them, and queried, 'is God not in the car?' "

— Dennis Sharp. Twentieth Century Architecture: a Visual History. p365.


460ft by 200ft, reaching up to 128ft at its apex.

Sources on Garden Grove Church

"From Maybeck to Megachurches", by Douglas R. Hoffman, ArchitectureWeek No. 61, 2001.0808, p1.

American Institute of Architects. American Architecture of the 1980s. Washington, D.C.: The American Institute of Architects Press, 1990. LC 89-18461. NA712.A64 1990. ground floor plan, p34. upper floor plan, p34.

Paul Heyer. American Architecture: Ideas and Ideologies in the Late Twentieth Century. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993. ISBN 0-442-01328-0. LC 92-18415. NA2750.H48. exterior photo, p49.

Nory Miller. Johnson/Burgee: Architecture: The Buildings and Projects of Philip Johnson and John Burgee. First Edition. New York: Random House, Inc.,1979. ISBN 0-394-50744-4. LC 79-4786. NA737J6A4 1979. discussion, p111.

Dennis Sharp. Twentieth Century Architecture: a Visual History. New York: Facts on File, 1990. ISBN 0-8160-2438-3. NA680.S517. exterior, interior photos, plan and section drawings, p365. — Available at

Kevin Matthews. The Great Buildings Collection on CD-ROM. Artifice, 2001. ISBN 0-9667098-4-5.— Available at  Find books about Garden Grove Church


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