We’re talking about a global pandemic these days; this pandemic has not just affected us on a health level but a mental level as well. COVID-19 has led to an increase in the death rate within a very short period. This has in turn taken our death industry on a toll. We’re facing all kinds of issues related to this, right from a space crunch to a lack of facilities and treatment of the deceased. Before this, Death was always treated as an anonymous concept or a concept not worth giving its due diligence, it was meant to fulfill its functional aspect only. The emotional aspect for the same has been a rather ignorance for many years.
‘Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of it. ‘, as quoted by Haruki Murakami.
Similarly, a need to have death being a part of our ‘lifestyle’ is also very necessary. In historic times, mass cremations or funerals of war heroes or allied resources were considered as a sign of valor and patriotism. In a rather minimized scenario, death was a negative concept, majorly derived from people’s perception of looking at it. Due to this, the design for death spaces was more functional and crisp. A straightforward approach to designing these spaces was seen. As the years progressed, the human mindset started reanalyzing these spaces. Architectural designers and thinkers started viewing these spaces much more than their core functions. These designs retained the traditional approach of designing and started adding value to these prerequisites. Death architecture and spaces have seen a phenomenal change over the years.
The cemeteries along with other spaces such as crematoriums or burials have seen a dynamic change and alteration over recent years. These cemeteries have now started a new trend in architecture known as Modern Memorial Architecture. Holistically, modern cemetery designs approach these spaces in a subtle, slow, and unidirectional pattern. Some examples have proven to be path-breaking by challenging certain stereotypes in cemetery design.
In historic times, the deceased were buried in the grounds of their parish church. But as times progressed, the 18th and 19th centuries saw a major uprising in the population rate. The Industrial revolution catered in segregating death spaces with the church. People now started dedicating separate areas as burial spaces for the deceased and thus, gave rise to the cemetery. The design approach towards these spaces in early history was more focused on making it carved and exuberant decorative. The carvings and other aesthetics denoted the prowess of a certain family and its lineage.
The 20th century, however, saw a rather minimalistic and sublime approach. These new cemetery designs were more focused on catering to an introspective thought. They were more focused on its scale and functionality which zeroed down to the basics. The materials used were also exposed to look and finish such as exposed concrete, raw bricks, or precast, etc. The thought of looking at these cemeteries was entirely altered, although the traditional way of approach remained the same. In no time, people started accepting this design as the new normal as it was efficient and thought provoking.
The Gubbio Necropolis extension in Italy is one such example. The design is minimal. The exposed material and linear arrangement that have an intriguing scale make this cemetery one of the finest of its kind. Situated in central Italy, Gubbio is one of the medieval cities and holds a cultural symbolization. The monumental Gubbio cemetery has been a part of this precinct since the medieval times, however, the small extension built along with it is considered to have a rather modernist approach. The design is based on the urban context and its surrounding landscape.
The Family tomb designed by Architect Pedro Dias is a rather small project but has captured the eye, the main reason being its minimalistic approach towards design. The design gives a thought-provoking message that design needn’t necessarily be grand or large in scale; sometimes a simplistic approach can also speak volumes. This small tomb space has a contemplation space that overlooks the green hills that the site is surrounded with. The tomb opens up to a large see-through opening towards these hills which gives a seamless approach to the design. The roof opening is a cruciform aperture that denotes symbolization and function both.
Similarly, the Islamic Cemetery in Austria by Bernado Bader is one such example. The material designs and a traditionalist approach is what make this design unique. The red-tinted concrete with a latticed oak framework that has traditional motifs of Jaalis and symmetry adds up to making this design a modernist traditional example in cemeteries. The Islamic Mashrabiya screens allow ample yet restrictive light in the interior which allows the user to have a sense of contemplation, remembrance, and introspection within the interior. This restrictiveness allows the user to have a sense of remembrance but also avoids the user from getting towards isolation. The calculative amount of light and ventilation through the traditionalist designs makes this cemetery one of the most creative designs in a modern era.
The Cimitero Monumentale di Milano in Italy is a monument dedicated to the victims of the concentration camp. This design is a culmination of the Byzantine, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Modernist, and Postmodernist era. It is described as an open-air museum.
Aldo Rossi also had designed a cemetery in Modena, Italy. This design by the Italian Architect and Theorist is a chilling approach in the field of cemetery design. This skeletal design with its blue-roofed buildings and huge courtyards with terracotta as primary material is considered a postmodern masterpiece by Rossi even today.
Similarly, the Brion Cemetery in San Vito d’ Altivole, Italy by Carlo Scarpa is a dynamic design. The architecture for this design is mainly reflective of the current needs of a cemetery, and at the same time, it uses the Asian ‘Mandala’ designs in its elements while following the modernist exposed material approach.
Landscape and Cemeteries
Death spaces are not only about their interior or core areas but have a lot to do with the landscape and open spaces as well. The landscape helps in creating an approach towards the finality; it allows the user to contemplate his thoughts. The ease of these spaces helps in affecting the human mind by calming them down. They play a vital role in affecting the psychology of a user. People visiting death spaces are not entirely invested in the architectural qualities of design, but the spatial quality and experiential capacity of a structure can heavily affect the user involuntarily. From the species of trees to the spatial design and forms, landscape and cemeteries are a correlated phenomenon.
The Lakewood Cemetery has a historic garden landscape around it. It is one of the sustainable cemetery designs. Elements such as zero-edge reflecting pool, accessible green roof, and outdoor commemorative spaces are a part of this design. These secondary spaces are designed to ease out the user from the core activities. Even the crypt rooms have openings in the roof for skylight.
Death and Death spaces are an age-old concept; they have been a part of our lives since our primary existence. It is a concept that strongly requires a space that weighs its due importance and interprets it into architecture. This in turn leads to Architecture catering to human behavior and emotions. Death architecture is a crucial part of the Architecture of spaces. It requires a human approach towards it, both architecturally and environmentally. Death spaces should be given its due diligence and acceptance, only then a community can grow through it.