The Crystal Cathedral

In  1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen formed a partnership for a little company they called Microsoft. That same year, Severud Associates—already in business for almost 50 years—was retained to design the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. A dazzling example of architectural and engineering imagination and innovation, the cathedral is shaped like a four-pointed star and its walls and roof are glazed with more than 10,000 panels of tempered glass, all held in place by an intricate frame of inter-connected steel trusses.


Choosing trusses as the primary structural elements enabled the designers to create the soaring space envisioned by the project’s renowned architect, Philip Johnson, while also providing the strength necessary to resist potential wind loads and forces associated with the high-magnitude earthquakes that are possible in southern California.


The 128-foot-high triodetic steel lattice composed of relatively lightweight chord and web members, gave the structure the transparency needed to satisfy the architect’s desired aesthetic. The shape of the south-facing roof was designed to allow abundant sunlight to enter and was also engineered to act as a giant chimney that conducts heat upward, preventing an unpleasant greenhouse effect inside.


Attaching the curtain wall to the steel framing presented a construction challenge. Each glazing panel had to be accurately placed in order to maintain the Crystal Cathedral’s smooth, faceted form. To address this issue, the designers configured connections that could be adjusted in six directions, which gave the installers the ability to precisely align the panels.


Severud Associates has a long history of designing iconic, high profile structures, including the Gateway Arch, The Seagram Building, Madison Square Garden, and the roof of the Denver International Airport. Another crystalline building, the acclaimed Bank of America Tower, was the first high-rise office building in the world to earn a LEED Platinum certification. These projects all demonstrate Severud’s ongoing commitment to excellence through imagination and innovation.