St. Mary’s Cathedral
- Belluschi, Pietro
- Cathedral Hill, San Francisco
- Building Type:
- 1111 Gough Street, San Francisco, California
- Current Name:
- The Cathedral of Saint Mary
- Current Use:
- Catholic Cathedral and School
- Current Condition:
- Not Listed
St. Mary’s is a highly visible local landmark of modern architecture prominently sited on a hilltop west of downtown. The design is a collaboration between regionally and nationally known architect Pietro Belluschi and internationally recognized architect-engineer of thin shell concrete membranes Luigi Nervi. Although churches built in modern styles are common, St. Mary’s is a relatively rare example of modernist ecclesiastical architecture applied on the scale of a cathedral. The dramatic design, dominated by four 190-foot (58m) hyperbolic paraboloids, is notable for its complex structural system executed in clean sculptural forms.
San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
Although the exterior is covered in a veneer of travertine, the inner surface of the parabolic ceiling is made up of pre-cast triangular coffers, which were designed to distribute the weight of the form down to the corner pylons. The design is unusual for a monumental religious structure in that it also features views of the city from vast windows set at the corners of the building.
The intricate structural design, dominated by pairs of interlocking concrete hyperbolic paraboloids, which intersect to form a cross at the center of the cathedral’s soaring ceiling, is awe-inspiring when viewed from the soaring interior space. From the exterior, walls of undulating, classically-Modern travertine appear to float on a plinth in front of sweeping views of San Francisco. Parking, a mid-century necessity, has been strategically hidden below the main structure.