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Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was built to resist damage for seismic activities and endure for 500 years as a symbol of the enduring power of faith. Located in Los Angeles, the Cathedral was conceived by Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney as not just a place of worship for Roman Catholics but also as a beacon of hope and faith for all city residents. Engineers were challenged to design and build a structure that would endure for 500 years as both a spiritual symbol and as community refuge for traumatic events such as earthquakes.

A five-building complex, on a 5.5-acre site in the downtown Civic Center area, the Cathedral seats 3,000 people, and rises 120 feet above street level. The freestanding bell tower next to the church rises to a height of 156 feet above street level. The key to the structural success of the project is a base isolation system that enables the building to move independently of its foundation in the event of an earthquake.

Adobe-colored, lightly sandblasted architectural concrete was selected for the cathedral's 600,000 square feet of walls. The concrete is exposed both inside and out in what is believed to be the largest use of exposed architectural concrete in a California building. Structural walls vary in thickness from 12 to 58 inches and use few right angles. 850 non-repeating corner conditions, each requiring a custom form, grace the cathedral. The church includes such special features as commissioned works from dozens of artists and the largest installation of alabaster windows in the world. The acoustical measures provide for both speech and music in the 3.3 million cubic foot combined volume of the nave, transepts and narthex.

The project was selected by ASCE as a finalist for the 2003 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement (OCEA) Award.