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The Return of Sacred Architecture

The Golden Ratio and the End of Modernism

Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

An inspirational call for a return to the tenets of traditional architecture as a remedy for the dehumanizing standards of modern architecture

• Explains how modern architecture is emblematic of our current estrangement from the spiritual principles that shaped humanity’s greatest civilizations

• Reveals how the ancient laws of sacred proportion and harmony can be restored

The ugly buildings that characterize the modern landscape are inferior not only to the great cathedrals of medieval Europe and the temples of ancient Egypt and Greece, but even to lesser buildings of the more recent past. The great masterworks of our ancestors spoke to humanity’s higher nature. Architect Herbert Bangs reveals how today’s dysfunctional buildings bring out the worst in humanity, reinforcing that which is most base within us. He shows how, through the ancient laws of proportion and number, architecture once expressed the harmonious relationship between man and the cosmos. In early times, the architect worked within a sacred and esoteric tradition of creating structures through which human beings could gain insight into the nature of the divine reality. Today, that tradition has been abandoned in favor of narrowly defined utilitarian principles of efficiency and economy.

In The Return of Sacred Architecture, Bangs provides the key to freeing architecture from the crude functionality of the twentieth century: the architects of the modern human landscape must find the deep-felt connection to the cosmos that guided the inner lives of those who built the temples of the past. The form of their buildings will then reflect the sacred patterns of geometry and proportion and bring forth greater harmony in the world.



The architecture of alienation is an architecture that refuses to recognize the instinctive roots of man in his relation to the earth, to the sky, to the elements of his material existence. It seeks to deny the unconscious mind, the intuition, and the supernatural awareness. In the name of “science” it has foisted upon us a narrow, mechanistic vision of human life, without purpose and without God. Our architecture reflects that vision.

The most influential “scientific” architect of the 20th century and the apostle of alienation was undoubtedly Le Corbusier. La Ville Radieuse was written early in his long career, and he recognized that the home was the basic “unit” of urban life. But to Le Corbusier the home was a “machine for living” and the enormous apartment towers with which he proposed to replace the West Bank of Paris were based on a limited group of typical floor plans that could be substituted for one another like the parts of a machine. These in turn were based on a “minimum living unit”--which he called, appropriately, the “cell.”

The arrogance and ignorance expressed in this statement are appalling, and the implications for the dignity of human life are fearful. The statement is, nevertheless, typical of the men of 20th century science. As a representative of that science Corbusier was a hero to the architects of my generation and his ideas were accepted without question by his followers. Huge, public-housing, elevator apartment houses in imitation of Le Corbusier were built all over the world and acclaimed by the media and the architectural press.

The same buildings have been thoroughly hated by those forced by circumstances to live within their walls. In covert rebellion, their inhabitants have often allowed them to slide into a disgusting squalor that was worse than that of the slums they were intended to replace. In some of these buildings social disorganization became so great, crime and violence so endemic, that the only solution, finally, was total demolition.

The enormous structures proposed by Le Corbusier were to be sealed from the outside air. He wrote at length about the advantages of sunlight and “pure, fresh air,” but the sunlight was to be filtered through glass and the air recirculated mechanically. Corbusier’s proposal was nevertheless enthusiastically accepted by the “scientific” architects of the 20th century and has become the normal way in which a building is designed and constructed. But there was no logical or “scientific” reason why buildings should be so constructed. I am convinced that the real reason for sealing the buildings was an unconscious desire to break the link between man and the natural environment, the sunlight and the air.

Architecture was once regarded as shelter that opened to the world beyond the window or door. It was the opening, the window and door, that was detailed and emphasized. When we look at contemporary buildings we see hard, sheer, walls without openings and only a minimum of flat detailing. Through the use of large sheets of glass these building “envelopes,” as they are called, provide those who are powerful enough to seize a location near a perimeter wall with a “view,” or panoramic picture of the world outside. If located on the upper floors of a building such a view may be spectacular, and provide an enormous satisfaction to the egos of the few who have the power to direct the allocation of space in the structure. Most of the others are condemned to spend their lives at a desk juggling papers under fluorescent lights and an air diffuser.

Anyone who has designed the floor plans of one of these buildings will be aware of the battles that are waged by mid-level employees to secure an office with a window. While prestige and status are certainly involved the struggle is more over access to the space and light of the world beyond the polished glass skin of the “curtain” wall. The desperation of those who dwell in these spaces for much of their waking life is a measure of their dissatisfaction with the typical environment of a corporate office building. Some corporate leaders are aware of this dissatisfaction, and in recent years have tried to relocate their staff to suburban buildings, surrounded by lawns and trees. In these huge, new buildings, however, the struggle for a window, for light and air, still goes on, and is intensified because of the more desirable environment outside the wall. And even here, in suburbia, where noise and pollution are not a problem, the windows do not open, but only present a picture, as it were, of the grass and trees.

With single-minded intensity, the architects of the 20th century have pursued this vision of the sealed environment to its ultimate conclusion, which was not an office at all, but the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe.

The Farnsworth House is essentially a unit of one of the large corporate glass and steel structures designed by Mies van der Rohe, in this case set down in meadow near a river. The clear, pure geometry of this translucent, rectangular prism, floating over the meadow and linked only to the ground by eight steel, wide-flanged sections used as columns is beautiful, but the beauty is that of a highly polished and finished sculptural artifact rather than a dwelling. The entire exterior wall is glass. While the interior is visually open to the natural landscape, it is relatively inaccessible, for there are only two small, low, operable windows, and one unobtrusive double door. The visual openness is belied by the impermeability of the glass barrier and the functional distinction between the interior and exterior space is clear-cut.

About The Author

Herbert Bangs was a designer for R. R. Buckminster Fuller’s architectural firm, Geodesics, and was the Baltimore County architect and principal master planner. He and his wife live in a solar home he designed and built in Ruxton, Maryland.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (November 14, 2006)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781620550519

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Raves and Reviews

“. . . an excellent and precisely timed work that is encompassing, mature, and presented not only with sound reasoning but depth of feeling.”

– Robert Lawlor, author of Sacred Geometry

“This book deserves to be on every architect’s bookshelf. It demonstrates that much of modern architecture has become divorced from the principles of proportion used by almost all important buildings in historical times.”

– Robin Heath, author of Sun, Moon, and Stonehenge

“A superb clarion call for a restoration of beauty, integrity, and above all, sanity in modern architecture.”

– Richard Smoley, author of Forbidden Faith

“This brave and perceptive work explores the debacle of modern architecture and points the way to a healthier new architecture, based on proportion and sacred principles, which reveres ecology and the cosmos.”

– A. T. Mann, author of Sacred Architecture

“. . . captures truths that we intuitively know, but haven’t the training and background to articulate and illustrate as fully as is done in this fine work.”

– Mitch Horowitz, Exectutive Editor at Tarcher/Penguin

“This is a significant and important book that expresses the perennial wisdom that has been the basis of covert mystery school teachings throughout the ages. It is most pertinent for society at large as well as all students of the Arts and Architecture who are searching for the knowledge, understanding, and meaning of Plato’s concepts of Goodness, Beauty, and Truth.”

– Thomas Saunders, Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and author of The Broiled Frog

There are a few books that everyone should read, regardless of their discipline or degree of interest in esotericism--[This book] is one of them. . . . End the madness of modernity. Buy this book, give it away to everyone you know, and hope, pray, that its seeds will take root, and one day we can begin to build a world that reflects our vision of heaven as did our ancestors.

– Mark Stavish, Institute for Hermetic Studies, 1/15/07

"Herbert Bangs brings extraordinary insights into his scholarly yet impassioned exploration of sacred architecture. . . . THE RETURN OF SACRED ARCHITECTURE is a clarion call for adopting a more intuitive approach to design and a better appreciation for the sources of divine inspiration. I give this book my highest recommendation."

– Cynthia Larsen,, April 2007

"The thesis is well presented, enhanced by numerous illustrations and examples and enlivened by personal glimpses of leading designers and architects. Such clear-sighted candor and spiritual solutions are overdue, refreshing, and very encouraging."

– Light of Consciousness, Summer 2008

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