Saying a final goodbye is never easy. Bidding a loved one farewell is a very personal gesture and the cemetery being the culmination of this, must respond sensitively. 

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Here are 10 guidelines that an Architect or Designer must consider while pursuing such a project.

1. The importance of a Master Plan

The master plan is the primary and most crucial step while designing a cemetery. Cohesive planning, optimizing land utilization, and long term sustainability which improves the overall aesthetics of a delicate space like this is what an Architect needs to target his focus upon. 

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It acts as a proactive road map that avails ease of accessibility for various user groups.

A great example of a successful master plan for a cemetery is The Texas State Cemetery. Renovated in 1997, the master plan shows the existing burial capacity within the cemetery, identified opportunities to provide increased capacity through increased and diversified burial options, and recommended various improvements to enhance the user/visitor experience. 

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2. How Building Design and Décor must be thought about

The design must respond to regional elements of the area. It must be user-friendly supporting human performance. Neutral colors that fit into natural backgrounds should be preferred and flashy, bright colors to be omitted. Using organic forms, materials and textures gives a subtle flow to the design.

The Sayama Lakeside Cemetery, Japan best describes this.

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Koji Fujii ©Koji Fujii
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Koji Fujii ©Koji Fujii

3. Proposing appropriate Landscaping

A landscape that harmonizes with the existing scenario is adaptive yet unique in itself must be created to respond to a project of this nature. Perception of decorative features, different shades of green that will cumulatively give the space its identity, species of flowering trees, must all be considered. Providing hardscapes in proportion to softscapes, fence design following standard protocol must be aptly done. 

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Outdoor lighting, memorial furniture designs and special water features that compliment the overall layout is a small contribution to a bigger picture.

Funerary Garden, Mexico shows a perfect landscape design sitting quietly in the background of the cemetery.

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Luis Gordoa ©Luis Gordoa
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Luis Gordoa ©Luis Gordoa

4. Need for Signage

Signage and wayfinding systems are of various categories:

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  • Directional Signage: to orient the visitors within the space.
  • Informational Signage
  • Temporary Signage: the moveable ones that can be reoriented.
  • Miscellaneous Signage: monumental and plaque signage.

The provision of these signs must follow proper protocol and must allow efficiency.

5. Responsive Grave Ideas

Considering the right grave size to rightly find out the burial capacity of the cemetery is crucial and if this is done incorrectly can affect the future expansion of the space.

Planting a tree as a covering for the grave must be encouraged today as the need of the hour instead of a redundant stone grave that is not sustainable.

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The use of biodegradable urns and caskets would also result in a new life for the environment.

 Image courtesy: Giacomo Bretzel

The egg-shaped, organic casket once buried, the biodegradable plastic shell breaks down and the remains provide nutrients to a sapling planted right above it. 

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©edition.cnn.com

6. Importance of Grading and Drainage Design

Designing a drainage system within a cemetery is a complex procedure considering the physical, environmental, and practical constraints but needs to be designed feasibly to prevent any leakages and must be such that the decomposed elements of the corpses do not seep into the groundwater supply system.

Subsoil drains, reed bed construction, surface water and catch all drainage systems are some drainage designs that prove effective.

7. Encouraging Green Infrastructure

Today’s scenario of the shortage of open land has encouraged spaces like cemeteries to have multiple functions like open spaces and parks for the public or also developing forestry along with just burial grounds.

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Harboring the lands to avoid water runoff, retrofitting impervious surfaces with water-retaining green infrastructures such as grass, flowerbeds, shrubs, and trees, constructing patios, tennis courts, driveways, swimming pools, parking lots, etc. are some ways of treating a cemetery as a more publicly utilized space within a city.

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Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, celebrates cultural activities on Sundays ©Krista Turner Photography

8. Stacking of Coffins

Vertical burial instead of horizontal, sharing coffins, and stacking coffins are some practices that have been undertaken in a few countries, not all, due to the fear of hurting sentiments. However, if alternatives like these are not undertaken to bury corpses, sooner or later we will fall short of land for building homes for people to live in. 

Eg: Banwell, a town in England has undertaken this new modular system; this system would double the amount of space and be less costly than building on a new plot of land. The modular grave system allows for up to four coffins per burial plot.

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©Greenacre Solutions

9. Today’s skyscraper cemeteries

The availability of limited space today has resulted in people designing vertical skyscrapers to house urns of their loved ones instead of taking up large horizontal acres of land. An initiative like this enables a sustainable future for the coming generations while also accepting death as an important sentiment. 

Eg: Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica III, a 32 storey highrise in Santos, Brazil is a proposed skyscraper cemetery that also includes a Chapel, a peacock garden, a Lagoon, etc. 

Those buried in the top floor would be “108 meters closer to heaven than a typical underground grave.” –Hindustan Times

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10. Developing a Solar Power Station within the Cemetery

The need for the generation of natural energy is immense but procuring land for the task in the urban world today is close to impossible. Installing solar panels over the widespread existing cemeteries resulting in power generation for houses and other typologies within the vicinity is the best kind of alternative use of the open land. 

Eg: The Santa Coloma de Gramenet Cemetery, Barcelona (https://www.trendhunter.com/trends/solar-power-graveyard-santa-coloma) is paying tribute to previous generations by generating its clean energy.

Author

Currently pursuing Architecture, Pallavi is in her final year of B.Arch. Being a passionate Architecture student,she’s developed a vast technical and hand-based skill-set. Finally, having had time this lockdown, she revoked her love for reading about the field which ultimately led her to believe that “Form does follow Function”.

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