Death is thought of as an end to a life process, just like darkness is an end to light. However, death is also the realization of life as darkness brings the brilliance of light.

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Death can be incomprehensible to people, leading them to temporarily suspend their regular lifestyle. The funeral process leaves a profound impact on people and they are often left in a confused state filled with emotions.

The crematorium is a very personal environment of mourning as well as celebrating the lived life of the deceased and is therefore responsible for a strong emotional connection between the living and the departed. It is a place where architecture can act as a medium to allow function and emotions to seamlessly merge and give an unobtrusive and organized environment.

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1. Feeling and Healing

Space has the power to dignify the feeling of losing a loved one and give him the strength to heal from within. A crematorium is a place that encounters death and its effect on the living where there is a two-way conversation between the physical environment and the mental wellbeing of the person. It is a place where a myriad of emotions overlaps from anger and grief to love, finally healing. This myriad lays the foundation of the complex.

The overlapping nature of these emotions could have been the prime reason for the abandoning of crematoriums from the scopes of architectural designing as it demands to be physically as well as emotionally impressive.

From the site, surrounding, people, and their movement to the play of light, colors, and materials, every single factor is dependent on how a person is supposed to feel with the utmost sensitivity. It is a place where proper cremation of the body has to be organized keeping in mind the hygiene and the environment as well as creating a space that marries personal spaces for mourning with public spaces for a shared feeling of loss.

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2. The site and its surrounding

The location of the crematorium plays an important role in determining whether the complex needs to be closely knit amongst itself or open to its surrounding depending on factors like the culture of the locality and its role in dignifying the loss. Therefore, the context of surroundings is crucial to respond to factors like security, easy accessibility, and visual permeability.

 A complex like the Crematorium in Lithuania chose to be exclusive as it is located in an industrial town of Kėdainiai and is largely surrounded by sugar mills and fertilizer factories. This work by Architectural Bureau G.Natkevicius & Partners was designed to behave like an introverted human being with concrete walls and a minimalistic approach.

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Crematorium at Lithuania (Source: ©https://www.dezeen.com
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Crematorium at Lithuania (Source: ©https://www.dezeen.com

3. Relationship with nature

Nature has a symbolic significance that can comprehend human emotions and depth of attachment and can play a significant role in the expression of the form of the building as well as the internal spaces. Designing the landscape according to the existing one can add an identity for the place. It can provide an open space for contemplation and consolation by keeping in mind the environmental aesthetics. 

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Therefore, ambulatory spaces, auditoriums, and other public or semi-public spaces are often opened up through fenestrations and glazing which can provide a calm and serene ambiance. 

William Robinson designed the Garden of Remembrance as the new landscape of death for Golders Green Crematorium, London’s first crematorium by architect Sir Ernest George. Memorial trees and shrubs along with seasonal trees are present within the garden which consists of several parts. These features allow the families and friends to add a token of memory that they can visit later.

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The Horder Garden in the Garden of Remembrance with ponds and bridge making it tranquil and picturesque ( ©https://www.thelondoncremation.co.uk
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A lawn in the Garden of Remembrance, for the scattering of ashes, filled with crocuses (©https://www.thelondoncremation.co.uk

4. Movement

Easing the people moving within the building can convert a presumably non-place into a meaningful place where non-place is often defined as a place of transition where people pass through but do not hold any personal significance to them.

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A crematorium is a place where there is a complex route of movement as it involves three categories of people – the deceased, the people accompanying the deceased, and the people working in that building. Therefore, it is important to design according to the hierarchy of the activities involved in the cremation.

The routing can be interpreted in many ways – Herman Zeinstra designed Haarlem Crematorium with the absence of any routing. He designed the spaces as separate components around an inner courtyard and believed that the free-flowing spaces will allow people to take their own positive decision to be a part of an activity rather than being flocked as a part of a fixed system of movement.

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Haarlem Crematorium (Source: ©https://dokarchitecten.nl
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Haarlem Crematorium (Source: ©https://dokarchitecten.nl

Whereas, Crematorium Baumschulenweg has been designed with proper routing by Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank as it is also understood that people often want to solely focus on the funeral process rather than thinking much about their movement thus, helping them stay calm.

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5. Spatial components

A wake for the deceased brings people, who might not know each other, momentarily together, by the feeling of grief. This is an essential connection for a funeral and architecture can enhance this unity where people help others to heal.

There are three types of primary spaces that are considered – space for cremation, space for relatives, and their gathering and space for staff where the orientation of the spaces should take into account the religious beliefs.

To bring these spaces and the people in harmony, centralized spaces as well as waiting areas can provide privacy and allow the people to assemble for a shared sense of loss. 

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Crematorium Baumschulenweg designed by Shultes Frank Architektenhas congregational spaces acting like the Piazza Coperta in the middle of a cenotaph, punctured with openings for natural light with a water body at the center, a place where people can share the common feeling of loss but shield their personal emotional vulnerability as well.

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Crematorium Baumschulenweg (Source: ©https://www.schultesfrank.de
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Congregational space in Crematorium Baumschulenweg (Source: ©https://www.schultesfrank.de

6. Light

“The creation of space in architecture is simply the condensation and purification of the power of light.” – Tadao Ando

Light has allowed architecture to experiment with the visual and emotional capabilities of a human being. It can create a sense of awe as did the Church of Light by Tadao Ando and a sense of eeriness like the Gothic churches. It has the power of empowering people against all the negative emotions surrounding them and can help them embrace the rule of nature where every life process comes to an end. It creates relationships and allows a seamless transformation that continuously shapes the world.

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Natural light has, historically paced the healing of people and has been widely utilized and recommended in stressed surroundings. Crematorium Seisegem, Belgium designed by KAAN Architecten has enveloped the humanity of its visitors through the modernist approach where natural lighting plays a key role in enhancing material choices, breaking the spaces through geometric openings, and reminding people of their belongingness with nature.

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Crematorium Seisegem (Source:©https://kaanarchitecten.com
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Crematorium Seisegem – Natural light emphasizing on the texture of materials (Source: ©https://kaanarchitecten.com
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Crematorium Seisegem – Geometrical openings (Source:©https://kaanarchitecten.com

7. Water

Water has been the most crucial element in cremations. Traditionally, several religions around the world believe in immersing the ashes in the rivers and therefore, has been one of the main reasons behind the location of crematoriums by the vicinity of a water body like the crematoriums near River Ganga.

However, water has also been used as a design element to provide a sense of tranquillity and stillness and as an outdoor congregational space to remind the vastness of nature. 

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Ashwini Kumar Crematorium in Surat has been designed by Matharoo Associates to isolate itself from the urban setting only to face the Tapi River. While keeping in mind the religious beliefs, it gives a secular platform for cremation where the people, after the completion of rituals, move towards the river bank rather than the road, occasionally taking a dip in the river and then start for their homes representing the cyclic nature of life.

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Ashwini Kumar Crematorium, Surat (Source: ©http://matharooassociates.com
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Ashwini Kumar Crematorium, Surat (Source: ©http://matharooassociates.com
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Ashwini Kumar Crematorium, Surat (Source: ©http://matharooassociates.com

8. Materials

Materials act as the strongest relations between the public buildings of an era in terms of texture. The coarse and fine texture has been used to explore the emotive aspects of a physical space through touch.

Crematoriums with modernist and postmodernist styles of architecture have incorporated glass, concrete, wood, and steel, and so on to create a monotonous ambiance. Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall has been designed in context to a nearby mountain and a small lake in Gifu, Japan by Toyo Ito. The sweeping concrete roof is an example of the materials following nature for texture. The curved circulation spaces enveloped with glass look towards the lake, attaining the sense of healing essential for a crematorium.

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Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall, Japan (Source: ©http://www.toyo-ito.co.jp
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Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall, Japan (Source: ©http://www.toyo-ito.co.jp
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Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall, Japan (Source: ©http://www.toyo-ito.co.jp

9. Colour

Crematoriums have been designed with colors showing utmost sensitivity to the purpose of the design where colors of materials have been visualized, not only for the building but for a landscape that has the crematorium in the foreground and the urban setting in the background.

The Zoetermeer Crematorium, Netherlands has been designed with CorTen steel in its façade, by architect Martijn de Gier of MYJ (now KBNG) to symbolize the corrosion of steel with the transition of life. The color and texture of the steel façade have turned the crematorium into a landmark as well as an important element of the landscape.

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The CorTen façade of Zoetermeer Crematorium opens up to the auditorium (Source: ©https://kbng.nl
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The CorTen façade of Zoetermeer Crematorium opens up to the auditorium (Source: ©https://kbng.nl
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The CorTen façade of Zoetermeer Crematorium opens up to the auditorium (Source: ©https://kbng.nl

10. Space for staff and environmental conditions

A crematorium is extremely utilitarian that needs clean, well lit, and sanitized spaces for not only the ovens but to store the bodies as well. Some spaces can be selectively open for visits by families depending on religion, culture, and the concerned activity. The spaces are connected by a separate network of circulation, often away from the view of the grieving relatives and therefore, need proper organization.

The gas emission from the burning of the bodies should be under strict control and regulation due to its adverse impact on the environment.

As mentioned in Pluralising pasts: Heritage, identity, and place in multicultural societies by G. J.Ashworth, B.Graham, & J. E Tunbridge, a sense of place can be pluralistic and contested that can be seen in crematoriums due to the emotions involved in place experience. This can often result in ambiguity and therefore, the logistic aspects need to be meticulously planned with the help of the factors mentioned above and many more depending on the tradition, culture, religion as well as the predominant socio-economic condition.

Sources:

  1. Tadao Ando, ‘Licht’, in Jahrbuch fur Licht und Architektur 1993, Berlin, 1993
  2. Grief and Healing in Architecture – Bachelor of Architecture Thesis by David Burns (https://issuu.com/davidburns/docs/david_burns_final_thesis_book)
  3. Designing a place for goodbye: The architecture of crematoria in theNetherlands – MirjamKlaassens, Peter Groote, 2012
  4. Death redesigned: British crematoria, history, architecture andlandscape – H.J Grainger, 2005
  5. The Science of Place and Well-Being, Esther M. Sternberg
  6. Typology: Crematorium – Article by Tom Wilkinson (https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/typology/typology-crematorium)
  7. Review of Mates & Davies (2005) Encyclopaedia of cremation.Mortality – J. Hockey, (2007).
  8. Crematorium / Architectural Bureau G.Natkevicius& Partners (https://www.archdaily.com/216622/crematorium-architectural-bureau-g-natkevicius-partners)
  9. Golders Green Crematorium- Memorials (https://www.thelondoncremation.co.uk/golders-green-crematorium/memorials)
  10. Crematorium Baumschulenweg / Shultes Frank Architeckten (https://www.archdaily.com/322464/crematorium-baumschulenweg-shultes-frank-architeckten)
  11. This Crematorium in Belgium is an Ode to Light, Not Darkness – Article by Mark Teo (https://www.azuremagazine.com/article/modernist-crematorium-siesegem)

12.Enhancing Sensory Environments of Crematoria – Tanya Bhatia (2014)

  1. Ashwinikumar Crematorium, Surat (http://matharooassociates.com/projects#public)
  2. Emotion in architecture; the experience of the user – Research Thesis by Simon Droog and Paul de Vries (https://issuu.com/pauldevries/docs/20090202_emotioninarchitecture_big)
Author

Aratrika Sarkar is an architectural student who strives to be an architect and a student forever. She loves the unfamiliar streets of an unfamiliar but a safe city. She aspires to be a sensitive human being and wants to spread love and peace through her works, written or designed.

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