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Book: The Holy in a Pluralistic World

Chapter: 10. The Numinous in Theologies of Modern Architecture

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.30393


Architecture occupied a particularly important position in Rudolf Otto’s analysis of the holy, as he recognized it as a major expression of the numinous. I argue that this idea lies behind much of the attention paid to the “ineffable” in modern and contemporary religious architecture. I track this influence, examining how Otto’s ideas are expanded in 20 and 21st century architecture—and theological reflection about that architecture—first examining Paul Tillich’s theology of architecture, then the ineffable in modernist architects Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, and finally in monuments to atrocities: Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero in New York City, with reference to the World Trade Center itself as sacred architecture. I close by a consideration of the sacred’s indeterminacy in the largely secular Western world, which offers both challenges and opportunities for architecture.

Chapter Contributors

  • Karla Britton ( - kbritton) 'Yale University'