Advanced Design Studio: Eisenman

Eisenman: Bologna

The Unreason of the Modern: The Transformation of the Sacred


Design and Visualization



Coordinating Faculty


With the rise of Christianity, Neo-platonism had the greatest influence on theological thought, since it emphasized a realm of immaterial ideas and transcendental truths over the phenomenological world of senses and materialistic functions. St. Augustine (354-430), one of the most influential theologians of Western Christianity, equated Plato’s higher realm of eternal truths with the realm of God, separating it from the sinful realm of humans. One could argue that this conceptual separation created a hierarchical view of the world - a potential space defined by a dualistic practice: secular and sacred.

With the advent of modern science, the invention of perspective in the fifteenth century and the development of the Cartesian coordinate system by Descartes in 1637, the hierarchical universe of post-medieval times was conceptualized as a mathematically precise and uniform space - Alberti’s homogeneous space. In light of this, it is possible that the rational subject of the humanist enlightenment may have inadvertently covered up other spatial possibilities and their representations.

The aim of the studio is to activate what may have been concealed by the enlightenment project of reason. It will do so first by looking back to the pre-enlightenment era of sacred architecture, more specifically to the Christian churches during our class trip to northern and central Italy (see attached travel itinerary). Second, the studio exercise will be a Catholic church in New Haven, chosen because it represents supposedly the most obvious and stable iconography of the modern era.

When examining the history of Western sacred architecture, several issues persist in relation to conceptualizing sacred space:

1. The dialectical relationship between sacred and profane.
2. Liturgy (or ritualistic practice) and its relationship to form.
3. The evolution from heterogeneous (hierarchical) space of the medieval times – pre-enlightenment, to the homogeneous (uniform) space of modernity.
4. The role of images and symbols in the communication of meaning.



The aim of the studio is to produce a critical project in architecture, which falls both inside and outside the enlightenment project of reason.

The studio will question the term ‘sacred’ and what it means today. It is not to be confused with the idea of ‘religious’ in architecture. The concept of sacred deals with the term ‘ineffable’ or ‘unspeakable’, which can be argued offers the possibility of dialectical resolution of sacred and profane through architectural conception of space. The studio will challenge the typological characteristics of sacred space within the discipline, through precedent analysis, and the autonomy of the sacred object within the context of today and of the contemporary city. But above all, the student’s goal is to add something to the discipline of architecture. It is important to point out that the church is only an avatar to help arrive at an understanding of the nature of the discipline. Close reading will help to define a methodological approach to the studio, and students will be asked to rethink prior definitions of space formation and raise questions regarding its internal representation.

Themes & Questions

Sacred vs. Profane
Mircea Eliade argues that there is a clear distinction between the sacred space (of the church) and the profane space (of the city).
“If the world is to be lived in, it must be founded – and no world can come to birth in the chaos of the homogeneity and relativity of profane space. The discovery of projection of a fixed point – the center – is equivalent to the creation of the world.” Mircea Eliade
How do we resolve this dichotomy?  Is it possible to create a space that is both ordinary and at the same time removed from the everyday life?

If the form of the church came from the ritualistic practices, as Pier Vittorio Aureli suggests, what is the form of the church today, when rituals of our every-day life are neutralized and homogenized in the ever-advancing field of capital and power?
“Liturgy is a set of rules that define a ritual and therefore a way to live and experience space. Christian church has a very specific orientation with differentiated central hall from the minor galleries. With the introduction of apse, which gives a sense of the ritual movement towards the altar, form becomes an enactment of program, while being indifferent to any other program at the same time.” P.V. Aureli

How do we move beyond the symbolism that is imbedded in religious structures? Formal illegibility?

Homogeneous vs. Heterogeneous / Uniform vs. Hierarchical / Rational vs. Irrational
It could be argued that today space is understood in terms of information – big data. On the urban scale, cities are described and evaluated by a universal language of data, for example their area, population, elevation, annual rainfall, etc. Similarly, buildings are characterized by their square footage, cost per square foot, surface to volume ratio, light levels and so forth. According to Bret Steel, “the escalating production of information surrounding architectural space […] suddenly offers entirely new kinds of projects.” (Log 28, p.97)
This rationalization of space is not a new phenomenon and can be traced back to the beginning of modern science (Descartes, Spinoza, Newton) and the Albertian conception of homogeneous space. In the current fashion of phenomenological architecture, the space is understood in terms of parameters, spatial or temporal, that are easily translated into data. As Anthony Vidler points out, “the technological response to a phenomenological idea becomes data” (Log 28, p.144).

How can we explore the inherent “otherness” of sacred space in the conceptualization of space as an internal critique of the discipline today? 
How can we rethink the space formation and move away from the homogeneity of the big data?
If on one side there is the project of reason, what is on the other side?

New Haven Catholic Church

The project will be a Catholic church situated in New Haven - a town originally founded by Puritans as a theological community with a theocratic government which did not permit the existence of other churches. However, it is important that the students define their own site within this context. The building will measure 30,000 sq ft (not including the outdoor public space). The programmatic requirements, which should be taken at face value (i.e. the investigation should not focus on the specific resolution of function), are as follows:

Church (roughly 10,000 sq ft)

1.  Main Congregation Space (should accommodate 250 seated people)
2.  Small Chapel
3.  Church Administration
     Community Center (roughly 20,000 sq ft)
4.  Classrooms
5.  Event Space / Multipurpose Zone
6.  Administration/Support
     Outdoor Public Space


Students will work individually for the three weeks prior to the studio trip and in pairs for the remainder of the semester.


Week 1 Site model class September 4
Week 2 Analysis - urban individual September 11
Week 3 Analysis - typological individual September 18
Week 4 Travel week class September 20-27
Week 5 Project teams October 2
Week 6 Project teams October 9
Week 7 Project teams October 16
Week 8 Mid-term review October 23
Week 9 Project teams October 30
Week 10 Project teams November 6
Week 11 Project teams November 13
Week 12 Thanksgiving fall break November 20
Week 13 Project teams November 27
Week 14 Project teams December 4
Week 15 Final review December 11



We will travel to Bologna during the allotted studio travel week. Pier Vittorio Aureli has planned an itinerary for us in and around Bologna, including day trips to Modena, Mantua, Ravenna, and Rimini. At the end of the week, we will visit the Venice Biennale.


Aureli, Pier Vittorio. Lecture given for “Modernism Redux: Le Corbusier” seminar at the Yale School of
Architecture. February 28, 2014.

Eisenman, Peter. “Is there a Religious Space in the Twenty-first Century?” Constructing the
Ineffable: Contemporary Sacred Architecture. The Yale School of Architecture, 2011.

Eisenman, Peter. “The Church in the Age of Information.” Stanford Presidential Lectures and
Symposia in the Humanities and Arts. 1996.Web. July 2014.

Hejduk, Renata and Jim Williamson. Religious Immaginations of Modern and Contemporary
Architecture: A Reader
. Routledge, 2011. 
*specific chapters TBD

Nagel, Alexander. The controversy of Renaissance Art. University of Chicago Press, 2011.
*specific chapters TBD

Samuel, Flora and Inge Linder-Gaillard. Sacred Concrete: The Churches of Le Corbusier.
Birkhaeuser, 2013.