Originally designed to be cutting-edge in 1961, the 22,000-square-foot iconic Arboretum building in Garden Grove, Calif., needed aesthetic and technological updates. Irvine, Calif.-based LPA Inc. applied thoughtful design practices to bring the Arboretum into the 21st century without disturbing the architectural significance of its rich history.Rev. Robert Schuller purchased the land in the 1950s after preaching the gospel for six years from the Orange Drive-In Theater while churchgoers listened in their cars. Schuller is a great patron of architecture and is the only non-architect to ever serve on the Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architect’s board of directors. He later became known for his “Hour of Power” television program. Schuller invited Richard Neutra, one of Southern California’s most celebrated architects, to design the project.
The Catholic Diocese of Orange acquired the Arboretum in February 2012. It was the original worship area for the Crystal Cathedral Ministries and is now serving as the temporary home for the relocated St. Callistus parish. The Arboretum is part of the 34-acre Christ Cathedral Campus, located in the heart of Orange County, Calif.
Partnering with the Diocese of Orange and the Christ Catholic Cathedral Corp., the entity charged with the management of the site, the design team utilized sustainable design decisions appropriately to achieve a balance between the needs of today’s church and guidelines of historic preservation. It was important to LPA to respect the original design intent while employing the technology available today.
Architectural historian, Barbara Lamprecht, states: “As an architectural historian, the very first thing you want to see is the preservation of the building. What excited me about the [Arboretum] project was that the Diocese, the architect and the developer all came together to say: ‘Wait a minute—we have a failing structure on our hands. So what are the immediate remedies that we can take to preserve that structure?’” She also notes that it was a very “courageous and bold” decision.
It became the goal to not be swayed by what was attractive of the already remodeled building but rather to take the building back to what was—back to its period of significance. It became clear that this project wasn’t a preservation project, where you’re trying to lock it in time. Nor was it a restoration project, where you rebuild what was originally there. It was a rehabilitation project with the desire to make the building new. Aesthetically, the design team wanted to look back. Technologically, it needed to look forward. The building has a new program, a new client and a new liturgy. Consequently, the design team took a very strong aesthetic and applied an old program, meshing those two together to become a Catholic church.
“The Catholic Church has been a great steward of art and architecture, and we are honored to continue to play this role in the 21st century,” says Robert Neal, a managing partner with Hager Pacific Properties, Newport Beach, Calif., and chair of the Architectural and Renovations Committee for the Christ Cathedral Campus.
LPA’s integrated design approach involved renovating the space in a way that allows Neutra’s original design intent to be brought back to life—including his own palette of colors that were hand-mixed onsite—while retrofitting the building with modern technology.
One of the Arboretum’s biggest challenges and priorities involved installation of the building’s first-ever air-conditioning system. “Our intent for the Arboretum was to do a simple refurbishment, but we did understand the building needed desperately to be air conditioned and so that started to lead us into a journey that took us to structural upgrades,” Neal says. The building’s east and west sides are made completely of glass; solar heat gain made the interior space so warm and uncomfortable that occupants were known to wear sunglasses indoors. After much debate, it was agreed that an underfloor air-distribution system would be installed to avoid roof-mounted equipment or ventilation systems, which would mar the beautiful profile of the building. Instead, floor-level diffusers blend in with new carpet tile, providing a cool and comfortable worship space.
PHOTOS: LPA INC./COSTEA PHOTOGRAPHY