Modern Sacred Architecture in Ireland and Germany


This conference sought to address the ways churches, synagogues, and mosques have been designed, used and understood over the last century, with a particular focus on Ireland and Germany. While classic definitions of modernity tended to represent it as a process of secularisation, in recent years there has been a deeper recognition of the cultural significance of religion in the modern world. In terms of the built environment, the facile dualism of tradition/modernity is troubled in particular by innovative and sometimes radical sacred architecture.


What may seem to be an unusual comparison makes particular sense because the first Irish architects to build modern churches were very much inspired by German precedents; one of the many ways in which these were in turn exported around the world was through the activities of Irish missionaries. Moreover, although every faith has distinctive architectural requirements, modern synagogues and mosques are often indebted to the same German precedents as many modern Irish churches. Such is certainly the case with the Terenure synagogue; one of the earliest examples of modern sacred architecture in Dublin.


Today Ireland and Germany face many of the same challenges and opportunities regarding the creation and adaption of their sacred architecture. On the one hand, due to dwindling congregations of some denominations, many buildings of a high architectural caliber, and occupying prominent locations in cities, suburbs, and towns, are no longer needed as churches. Meanwhile, continued urban expansion and the arrival of Jewish and Muslim immigrants have created a demand for new churches, synagogues, and mosques. These two stories overlap in the mosque owned by the Islamic Foundation of Ireland, which has been housed since 1983 in a former Presbyterian Church, but most adaptations are for secular uses. Meanwhile, a new wave of synagogue buildings has created an impressive set of responses to the challenge of building for Germany’s Jewish community. In Germany, as elsewhere, the construction of prominent mosques has often, but by no means always, been controversial. Many of these buildings make explicit reference to pre-modern precedents but others, as in Ireland, clearly draw upon modernism’s own history.


Every faith is predicated upon beliefs it presumes are eternal, but the way in which these are expressed through building has always been and remains in flux. Understanding how the eternal is restated in terms of the modern, and the history within modernism of this, enables us to better understand the place of faith and of its traces in contemporary Ireland and Germany.



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