Funerary Architecture: Designing for grief


The rituals that surround death are too emotional and important to be relegated to buildings that are soulless, functional and drab, says Kay Hill


Society is changing all the time, but sometimes the architecture that serves it takes a while to catch up. Multiculturalism, changes in faith and family and an increasing value placed on individuality have meant that the one-size-fits-all options of a church funeral or a conveyor belt service at a bleak 1970s concrete crematorium are no longer enough.

Thankfully, architects are responding with a wide range of different spaces for death rituals – from designs that focus on a deeply austere simplicity, evoking a spirituality that feels comfortable for all faith groups, to curvaceous, human-scaled buildings that aim to comfort in a time of grief. There are buildings that can cater for the large groups of 500 or more mourners that are common at Hindu funerals, while others are including chapels just a couple of metres wide, reflecting the increasing need to provide a space where parents can mourn a stillborn child in peace.

A sense of calm pervades the site of Crematorium Siesegem, completed in Belgium in 2018, with visitors being subtly persuaded to slow down by undulating green mounds before entering the 6.4m-high interior with its two ceremonial halls. The yellow-beige upholstery on the benches was selected to be a visual cue for sand and dust, and the cremation equipment itself is also visible, with the chimney going through a skylight to the heavens. The raw concrete and marble finishes and the pure geometry of the building were created to exude calm. Architect: KAAN Architecten. Client: Intergemeentelijke Samenwerking Westlede (IGS). Contractor: Jan de Nul, Hofstade-Aalst. Landscape: Erik Dhont. Artwork: Rinus Van de Velde
A sense of calm pervades the site of Crematorium Siesegem, completed in Belgium in 2018, with visitors being subtly persuaded to slow down by undulating green mounds before entering the 6.4m-high interior with its two ceremonial halls. The yellow-beige upholstery on the benches was selected to be a visual cue for sand and dust, and the cremation equipment itself is also visible, with the chimney going through a skylight to the heavens. The raw concrete and marble finishes and the pure geometry of the building were created to exude calm. Architect: KAAN Architecten. Client: Intergemeentelijke Samenwerking Westlede (IGS). Contractor: Jan de Nul, Hofstade-Aalst. Landscape: Erik Dhont. Artwork: Rinus Van de Velde

At the heart of almost every design is the desire to create an atmosphere of calm and peace, although this can be approached in a variety of ways. When KAAN Architecten won a competition to design the new Crematorium Siesegem for the Belgian city of Aalst, it was for its choice of materials and the use of simple geometry.

Image credit: Simone Bossi / Sebastian Van Damme.Image credit: Simone Bossi / Sebastian Van Damme.

‘A cremation is a special moment for everyone, a confrontation with the afterlife, so it’s a special task to create a suitable space for this moment,’ explains the practice’s founder Vincent Panhuysen. ‘We asked ourselves how you can make a building a place that serenely places itself in the background and literally and figuratively offers space for a special moment for grieving people. The building is as if cast in one piece in soft-grey concrete – a rigid and rectangular block. The outer walls are cast in one mould as a whole, while inside the walls are plastered with cement and the floors polished. Patios and skylights bring the sober materials to life in a subtle way and the daylight creates a lively and serene spatial whole.’

The contemporary extension to the Albes cemetery in Italy, completed in 2018, merges the old and new into a tranquil space where silence can be comfortably experienced, whether it’s on the terrace overlooking the views or under the skylight with its changing patterns of light and shadow. Architect: Stefano Peluso Architecture. Client: Municipality of Bressanone. Engineering: Maurizio Staglianò. Lighting consultants: Büro Von Lutz. Image credit: Gian Paolo Guacci.The contemporary extension to the Albes cemetery in Italy, completed in 2018, merges the old and new into a tranquil space where silence can be comfortably experienced, whether it’s on the terrace overlooking the views or under the skylight with its changing patterns of light and shadow. Architect: Stefano Peluso Architecture. Client: Municipality of Bressanone. Engineering: Maurizio Staglianò. Lighting consultants: Büro Von Lutz. Image credit: Gian Paolo Guacci.

The spaces are huge – the largest of the two assembly halls was designed to seat 600 people – but a patio space acts as a transitional zone, leading mourners gently from the busy streets outside into the highceilinged ceremonial areas, before leading them onward to the more relaxed cafeteria space beyond, as in Belgium it is traditional for the funeral tea to be held on-site.

The contemporary extension to the Albes cemetery in Italy, completed in 2018, merges the old and new into a tranquil space where silence can be comfortably experienced, whether it’s on the terrace overlooking the views or under the skylight with its changing patterns of light and shadow. Architect: Stefano Peluso Architecture. Client: Municipality of Bressanone. Engineering: Maurizio Staglianò. Lighting consultants: Büro Von Lutz. Image credit: Gian Paolo Guacci.The contemporary extension to the Albes cemetery in Italy, completed in 2018, merges the old and new into a tranquil space where silence can be comfortably experienced, whether it’s on the terrace overlooking the views or under the skylight with its changing patterns of light and shadow. Architect: Stefano Peluso Architecture. Client: Municipality of Bressanone. Engineering: Maurizio Staglianò. Lighting consultants: Büro Von Lutz. Image credit: Gian Paolo Guacci.

Architect Stefano Peluso was tasked with creating an extension to a historic church cemetery in the mountain resort of Albes in Italy that would include both an ossuary (for skeletal remains) and a columbarium (area for cremation urns). His intention was to create a space where silent reflection would seem natural and comfortable. ‘In mountain villages the cemetery is part of everyday life – a place of worship, meditation and silence. For that reason, I wanted this space to communicate directly and intimately with the user,’ he explains. ‘Nowadays, diversion is a way of life, and constant communication is a habit. We live in a time of constant background noise, so when we encounter silence we experience it as an anomaly; instead of appreciating it, we feel uncomfortable. The cemetery is the place of silence, but the challenge was how to shape that silence.

The design of the ‘tanatorium’ in Zaragoza evokes the idea of the sun as an ancient deity and the concrete structure as a form of cavern, opening to the godlike rays as people say their last goodbyes. The metal louvres create moving shadows, giving a visual representation of time passing as families stand vigil in the hours before a burial or cremation. Architect: Juan Carlos Salas, Salas Arquitectura + Diseño. Designer: David Leciñena. Engineering: Javier Muñoz, Sergio Calle. Structural engineering: Jose Miguel Escosa. General contractor: SOLCEQ. Image credit: Diaporama.The design of the ‘tanatorium’ in Zaragoza evokes the idea of the sun as an ancient deity and the concrete structure as a form of cavern, opening to the godlike rays as people say their last goodbyes. The metal louvres create moving shadows, giving a visual representation of time passing as families stand vigil in the hours before a burial or cremation. Architect: Juan Carlos Salas, Salas Arquitectura + Diseño. Designer: David Leciñena. Engineering: Javier Muñoz, Sergio Calle. Structural engineering: Jose Miguel Escosa. General contractor: SOLCEQ. Image credit: Diaporama.

‘My attempt to give a form to the silence meant simplifying the spaces and materials and removing what was unnecessary. The forms should speak simply through light and shadow, through the connection with historical context and landscape.’ A skylight above the columbarium allows light to shine into the space, emphasising the sanctity of the area, while the outside section forms a terrace with stunning views across the valley, as well as back towards the church.

The design of the ‘tanatorium’ in Zaragoza evokes the idea of the sun as an ancient deity and the concrete structure as a form of cavern, opening to the godlike rays as people say their last goodbyes. The metal louvres create moving shadows, giving a visual representation of time passing as families stand vigil in the hours before a burial or cremation. Architect: Juan Carlos Salas, Salas Arquitectura + Diseño. Designer: David Leciñena. Engineering: Javier Muñoz, Sergio Calle. Structural engineering: Jose Miguel Escosa. General contractor: SOLCEQ. Image credit: Diaporama.The design of the ‘tanatorium’ in Zaragoza evokes the idea of the sun as an ancient deity and the concrete structure as a form of cavern, opening to the godlike rays as people say their last goodbyes. The metal louvres create moving shadows, giving a visual representation of time passing as families stand vigil in the hours before a burial or cremation. Architect: Juan Carlos Salas, Salas Arquitectura + Diseño. Designer: David Leciñena. Engineering: Javier Muñoz, Sergio Calle. Structural engineering: Jose Miguel Escosa. General contractor: SOLCEQ. Image credit: Diaporama.

The play of light and shade is also a key feature of Salas Arquitectura + Diseño’s design for the municipal ‘tanatorium’ – somewhere between the UK concept of a mortuary and a chapel of rest, often provided by the local authority – in Zaragoza. In Spain, the tradition is for bodies to be cremated or buried within 24 hours, and during that time relatives and friends visit or stay with the body, which takes place in the tanatorium. ‘It becomes a meeting place for a part of society to surround the deceased,’ explains Juan Carlos Salas. ‘The emotional response of people is uncontrollable; but the building creates an atmosphere that favours personal reflection.’ Although as a council-owned building it was specifically non-religious, it was intended to be spiritual, using ancient motifs of the power of the sun and the cocooning nature of a cave to connect with users on a deep and fundamental level. Exterior metal louvres on the white concrete building filter the sunlight inside, creating ever-changing patterns on the walls and floor, giving a direct sense of time passing as families sit in vigil, as well as reminding them that life continues outside the doors. ‘The presence of the sun inside the building is an evocative resource,’ says Salas.

The new crematorium at Basel in Switzerland, opened in 2017, captures in its design the dual nature of the industrial process of incineration combined with the emotional response of mourning. The translation is a building with a concrete structure and a brick skin. The concrete is a rough, industrial product, the brick is a handmade and hand-laid material. The bricks stretch around the building and are open to light and air, defining a porous border that is open and closed at the same time. Architect: Architekturbüro Garrigues Maurer GmbH, Zürich, with collaborators Bernhard Maurer, Frédéric Garrigues and Eleonora Bassi. Client: Immobilien Basel Stadt. Structural engineer: Bollinger und Grohmann GmbH. Landscape: August + Margrith Künzel Landschaftsarchitekten AG, Binningen. Image credit: Rasmus Norlander.The new crematorium at Basel in Switzerland, opened in 2017, captures in its design the dual nature of the industrial process of incineration combined with the emotional response of mourning. The translation is a building with a concrete structure and a brick skin. The concrete is a rough, industrial product, the brick is a handmade and hand-laid material. The bricks stretch around the building and are open to light and air, defining a porous border that is open and closed at the same time. Architect: Architekturbüro Garrigues Maurer GmbH, Zürich, with collaborators Bernhard Maurer, Frédéric Garrigues and Eleonora Bassi. Client: Immobilien Basel Stadt. Structural engineer: Bollinger und Grohmann GmbH. Landscape: August + Margrith Künzel Landschaftsarchitekten AG, Binningen. Image credit: Rasmus Norlander.

Some architects believe the simple purity of geometry has a calming power in itself. Architekturbüro Garrigues Maurer created a new crematorium in Basel, Switzerland, to stand alongside the existing Hörnli cemetery. The architects explain: ‘The cemetery was finished in the 1930s and its existing layout and buildings are shaped by a straight, classical geometrical order embedded in nature. This urban layout gives consolation in the form of rationality and clarity. The new crematorium subordinates itself to these found patterns. It forms a background for both the landscape and the act of saying farewell, and creates a solemn experience, ecumenical and easily accessible to all.

‘A new entrance court forms a mediating space between the existing and new structures. From there you enter an enclosed courtyard providing an intimate, semi-public space only available to the respective mourners, allowing a slow approach to the final act. This sequence of spaces, ending in the cremation room, is followed by a volumetric development in height. The building rises step by step from the lowest level of the entrance until its highest part, the freestanding chimney. This movement guides the families by creating a succession of spaces that ends and starts with the building’s one, big, open window opening towards the sky.’

The new crematorium at Basel in Switzerland, opened in 2017, captures in its design the dual nature of the industrial process of incineration combined with the emotional response of mourning. The translation is a building with a concrete structure and a brick skin. The concrete is a rough, industrial product, the brick is a handmade and hand-laid material. The bricks stretch around the building and are open to light and air, defining a porous border that is open and closed at the same time. Architect: Architekturbüro Garrigues Maurer GmbH, Zürich, with collaborators Bernhard Maurer, Frédéric Garrigues and Eleonora Bassi. Client: Immobilien Basel Stadt. Structural engineer: Bollinger und Grohmann GmbH. Landscape: August + Margrith Künzel Landschaftsarchitekten AG, Binningen. Image credit: Rasmus Norlander.The new crematorium at Basel in Switzerland, opened in 2017, captures in its design the dual nature of the industrial process of incineration combined with the emotional response of mourning. The translation is a building with a concrete structure and a brick skin. The concrete is a rough, industrial product, the brick is a handmade and hand-laid material. The bricks stretch around the building and are open to light and air, defining a porous border that is open and closed at the same time. Architect: Architekturbüro Garrigues Maurer GmbH, Zürich, with collaborators Bernhard Maurer, Frédéric Garrigues and Eleonora Bassi. Client: Immobilien Basel Stadt. Structural engineer: Bollinger und Grohmann GmbH. Landscape: August + Margrith Künzel Landschaftsarchitekten AG, Binningen. Image credit: Rasmus Norlander.

Currently at the planning stage, a huge columbarium complex designed by Baca Architects for a private consortium aims to create a landmark piece of architecture in Milton Keynes that will combine design with the latest technology to create a space that will have a universal appeal. ‘The consortium identified a gap in the market for a building for commemoration and remembrance,’ says director Richard Coutts. ‘We were asked to create a non-denominational columbarium with 100,000 niches that can be bought from 10 years up to perpetuity.’ Access to the complex is via a walkway across water, with parking hidden under the reflective lake itself. On the other side, the visitor will find extensive grounds and open spaces, along with a mix of ceremonial halls suitable for funerals with anything from a handful of mourners to more than 500.

‘There are five interconnecting zones and it would take half a day to walk around it,’ says Coutts. ‘The routes and the views are very carefully curated so there are times of privacy. We are trying to create something that’s very moving, that has an architecture that feels familiar to all, that has an austerity and formality, but softened with a delicate landscape, while the water reflects the circle of life. It’s a piece of architecture that people will want to visit, and that creates longevity. The building is a single sculptural form created from the harmonious arrangement of interlocking circles. The circle has significance to many religions and represents unity, wholeness and infinity. The columbarium as a multi-faith space is very much a space of unity and wholeness.’

The £30m columbarium planned for Milton Keynes aims to solve the problem ‘how shall we remember our loved ones after cremation’ by providing 100,000 niches to house cinerary urns, as well as both large and small spaces for funerals and acts of remembrance. The design, which takes visitors across a reflective pool to help the transition from the everyday world to the monumental space, includes flowing water for the scattering of ashes and a space that can be transformed digitally to represent a buildings such as a chapel, mosque, or synagogue, or to display family photographs. Architect: Baca Architects. Client: a private consortiumThe £30m columbarium planned for Milton Keynes aims to solve the problem ‘how shall we remember our loved ones after cremation’ by providing 100,000 niches to house cinerary urns, as well as both large and small spaces for funerals and acts of remembrance. The design, which takes visitors across a reflective pool to help the transition from the everyday world to the monumental space, includes flowing water for the scattering of ashes and a space that can be transformed digitally to represent a buildings such as a chapel, mosque, or synagogue, or to display family photographs. Architect: Baca Architects. Client: a private consortium

One of its fascinating innovations is an artificial stream that will flow around the complex, seeming, thanks to an infinity pool structure, to drop into a natural river below. Hindus and Sikhs traditionally scatter ashes on running water, with many Hindu families heading to the River Ganges to do so. The flowing water will provide the element of tradition, while the ashes will be filtered back out after their journey around the complex, so they can be placed in an urn and interred.

Coutts has used technology to help provide an environment that will appeal to different faith groups, with panels covering the walls that enable the ceremonial space to be transformed digitally with something as simple as a faith symbol or with far greater complexity. ‘You can run a family album or create a historic chapel or mosque or synagogue from people’s home town; it’s a very personalised experience,’ he says.

The £30m columbarium planned for Milton Keynes aims to solve the problem ‘how shall we remember our loved ones after cremation’ by providing 100,000 niches to house cinerary urns, as well as both large and small spaces for funerals and acts of remembrance. The design, which takes visitors across a reflective pool to help the transition from the everyday world to the monumental space, includes flowing water for the scattering of ashes and a space that can be transformed digitally to represent a buildings such as a chapel, mosque, or synagogue, or to display family photographs. Architect: Baca Architects. Client: a private consortiumThe £30m columbarium planned for Milton Keynes aims to solve the problem ‘how shall we remember our loved ones after cremation’ by providing 100,000 niches to house cinerary urns, as well as both large and small spaces for funerals and acts of remembrance. The design, which takes visitors across a reflective pool to help the transition from the everyday world to the monumental space, includes flowing water for the scattering of ashes and a space that can be transformed digitally to represent a buildings such as a chapel, mosque, or synagogue, or to display family photographs. Architect: Baca Architects. Client: a private consortium

Adrian Morrow, now director at Adrian Morrow Architects, created Oak Chapel in Milton Keynes while working for Architecture MK. The brief was to create a non-religious building ‘with a calm and tranquil character’ as an additional, larger chapel at Crownhill Crematorium. From the very beginning he found it refreshing to be able to focus on how the building could help people in a time of crisis by creating a calming architecture.

The £30m columbarium planned for Milton Keynes aims to solve the problem ‘how shall we remember our loved ones after cremation’ by providing 100,000 niches to house cinerary urns, as well as both large and small spaces for funerals and acts of remembrance. The design, which takes visitors across a reflective pool to help the transition from the everyday world to the monumental space, includes flowing water for the scattering of ashes and a space that can be transformed digitally to represent a buildings such as a chapel, mosque, or synagogue, or to display family photographs. Architect: Baca Architects. Client: a private consortiumThe £30m columbarium planned for Milton Keynes aims to solve the problem ‘how shall we remember our loved ones after cremation’ by providing 100,000 niches to house cinerary urns, as well as both large and small spaces for funerals and acts of remembrance. The design, which takes visitors across a reflective pool to help the transition from the everyday world to the monumental space, includes flowing water for the scattering of ashes and a space that can be transformed digitally to represent a buildings such as a chapel, mosque, or synagogue, or to display family photographs. Architect: Baca Architects. Client: a private consortium

‘Most architectural briefs are all about the tangibles – the square metreage and function,’ he says. ‘It was very unusual for a client to talk to me about how a building should feel. The last thing I wanted was to add to people’s stress – they are already going to be anxious and destabilised emotionally and anything that helps stabilise them is a good thing. I didn’t want to make people feel depressed; I wanted them to feel calm and meditative.’

Rather than looking to classical monumental architecture, Morrow found inspiration from visits to the Alhambra in Grenada and the Alcazar in Seville, which can be seen in his use of arches and both pools and running water around the chapel. ‘The architectural form was very simple – cool and calm and with water elements and a courtyard garden inspired by Moorish architecture. Flowing water has always made me feel calm,’ he says. He also recalled a visit to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, designed by American architect Louis Kahn: ‘I was spellbound by it – it felt like an ancient temple even though it was a 20th century building. The concept of servant and served space was very useful.’

Oak Chapel in Crownhill, Milton Keynes, has curved arches, tranquil pools and flowing water to capture the peace and tranquillity found in Moorish architecture such as the Alhambra. The emotional needs of visitors were paramount in the design brief, with the tiny sanctuary chapel – with views over the water and walls made out of dense concrete masonry incorporating sparkling white Dolomite stone – offering an intimate setting for small funerals as well as a place to withdraw for those overcome by emotion. Architect: Adrian Morrow, in collaboration with Toby Maloy, Paul Hutchinson and Louisa Wan, MK Architects. Client: Phil Winsor, Chris Londy and Angela Abbott, Milton Keynes Council. Quantity Surveyor: Pick Everard. Structural engineer: Price + Myers. Glass artist: Julian Stocks. Image credit: David Thrower, Redshift Photography.Oak Chapel in Crownhill, Milton Keynes, has curved arches, tranquil pools and flowing water to capture the peace and tranquillity found in Moorish architecture such as the Alhambra. The emotional needs of visitors were paramount in the design brief, with the tiny sanctuary chapel – with views over the water and walls made out of dense concrete masonry incorporating sparkling white Dolomite stone – offering an intimate setting for small funerals as well as a place to withdraw for those overcome by emotion. Architect: Adrian Morrow, in collaboration with Toby Maloy, Paul Hutchinson and Louisa Wan, MK Architects. Client: Phil Winsor, Chris Londy and Angela Abbott, Milton Keynes Council. Quantity Surveyor: Pick Everard. Structural engineer: Price + Myers. Glass artist: Julian Stocks. Image credit: David Thrower, Redshift Photography.

Morrow intended that the new building would treat people with a sensitivity that such spaces often lack, which was behind his early inclusion of a tiny, circular chapel known as the sanctuary, adjacent to the main space and looking out over water: ‘The idea for the sanctuary came out of a conversation with the crematorium registrar Angela Abbott, who was saying that at funeral services for stillborn or very new babies you have a tiny little coffin and perhaps only the mum and dad present, and the main chapel is just far too big. I have also been to funerals where people have become completely emotionally overwhelmed, and it creates a space that people can retire to and have a little more privacy. The sanctuary is surrounded by water, like a little island.’ The theme of water was continued into the calming blue upholstery of the chairs and the vivid colours of the bespoke, contemporary stained glass by artist Julian Stocks.

The need for individuality in funeral rituals was also recognised in the design, with the inclusion of an acoustically live recessed area where a choir or chamber orchestra could perform: ‘It had to be a building that people would want to use, and that has proven to be the case as it is now very busy indeed. It’s a monumental building, but it’s designed to be beautiful. Architecture can induce emotion in people, just as music and art can generate all sorts of emotions, and the design was intended to help people’s emotional wellbeing.’

The UK’s Harbour View, which opened in 2018, is a private crematorium designed as an alternative to conveyor-belt local authority facilities, with only two services a day taking place. Inspired by Neolithic barrows and stone-lined burial chambers, it has a sedum roof and is surrounded by grassy bunds to limit the visual intrusion on the greenbelt. Local Purbeck stone and subdued lighting create a subtly darkened space in the chapel, while a skylight allows shafts of light to come down onto the coffin. Architect: Western Design Architects. Client: Tapper Funeral Service. Contractor: GlossbrookThe UK’s Harbour View, which opened in 2018, is a private crematorium designed as an alternative to conveyor-belt local authority facilities, with only two services a day taking place. Inspired by Neolithic barrows and stone-lined burial chambers, it has a sedum roof and is surrounded by grassy bunds to limit the visual intrusion on the greenbelt. Local Purbeck stone and subdued lighting create a subtly darkened space in the chapel, while a skylight allows shafts of light to come down onto the coffin. Architect: Western Design Architects. Client: Tapper Funeral Service. Contractor: Glossbrook

‘Perhaps the greatest beauty of our structures is the simple integrity,’ says Toby Angel, founder of Sacred Stones. His team built the first four Neolithic-style barrows in the UK in 5,000 years (the first as a private project before the company was formed). From the outside, the barrows appear as grassy, circular mounds, but inside – filled with niches for ashes, softly lit and made from natural stone – they have a womb-like atmosphere that appeals to people from all faiths and none. ‘It was the public response to that first barrow that made us continue,’ says Angel. ‘Every niche was bought in less than two years, and the vast majority were preneed, buying for themselves or preparing for the demise of a partner or parents.

The UK’s Harbour View, which opened in 2018, is a private crematorium designed as an alternative to conveyor-belt local authority facilities, with only two services a day taking place. Inspired by Neolithic barrows and stone-lined burial chambers, it has a sedum roof and is surrounded by grassy bunds to limit the visual intrusion on the greenbelt. Local Purbeck stone and subdued lighting create a subtly darkened space in the chapel, while a skylight allows shafts of light to come down onto the coffin. Architect: Western Design Architects. Client: Tapper Funeral Service. Contractor: GlossbrookThe UK’s Harbour View, which opened in 2018, is a private crematorium designed as an alternative to conveyor-belt local authority facilities, with only two services a day taking place. Inspired by Neolithic barrows and stone-lined burial chambers, it has a sedum roof and is surrounded by grassy bunds to limit the visual intrusion on the greenbelt. Local Purbeck stone and subdued lighting create a subtly darkened space in the chapel, while a skylight allows shafts of light to come down onto the coffin. Architect: Western Design Architects. Client: Tapper Funeral Service. Contractor: Glossbrook

‘The barrows are an example of how connected our predecessors were, and there’s a desire today to regain that sort of connection, yet without doctrine. People are not less spiritual than they have always been, they are just less likely to express it through religion. You can come with or without faith, but the barrows are spiritual places.’ Made using an ancient dry stone walling technique, they are designed with no dead ends so they feel psychologically comfortable to enter. ‘It needs to be inviting and you need to feel the air moving freely around the structure. People will sense that it’s a naturally nurturing space where they don’t feel constrained or constricted,’ says Angel. ‘We have found consistently that visitors feel uplifted.’ Families can have the whole day for their funeral rituals and can shape their own service to suit their beliefs. ‘They can curate their own event; they feel empowered and free to express themselves with privacy and time afforded,’ says Angel.

Mount Herzl Memorial Hall outside Jerusalem, dedicated in 2018, remembers every fallen Israeli solider by name. It is described by the architects as a non-building – sustainable and fitting seamlessly into the mountain scenery with the use of local stone. The undulating funnel, open to the sky to allow exchange of air without mechanical ventilation, was made from uniform extruded aluminium bricks, and its irregular vortex shape floods the space with ever-changing natural light. Architect: Etan Kimmel and Limor Amrani at Kimmel Eshkolot Architects, in collaboration with Kalush Chechik Architects. Client: Ministry of Defence. Structural engineer: Haim & Yehiel Steinberg Structural Engineering. Contractor: Green Construction Ltd. Lighting: Amir Brenner Lighting Design. Image credit: Amit Geron.Mount Herzl Memorial Hall outside Jerusalem, dedicated in 2018, remembers every fallen Israeli solider by name. It is described by the architects as a non-building – sustainable and fitting seamlessly into the mountain scenery with the use of local stone. The undulating funnel, open to the sky to allow exchange of air without mechanical ventilation, was made from uniform extruded aluminium bricks, and its irregular vortex shape floods the space with ever-changing natural light. Architect: Etan Kimmel and Limor Amrani at Kimmel Eshkolot Architects, in collaboration with Kalush Chechik Architects. Client: Ministry of Defence. Structural engineer: Haim & Yehiel Steinberg Structural Engineering. Contractor: Green Construction Ltd. Lighting: Amir Brenner Lighting Design. Image credit: Amit Geron.

The Neolithic barrow was also an inspiration for Jonathan Turvey and his team at Western Design Architects, responding to a brief from Tapper Funeral Service to create ‘an outstanding, statement building’ for the Harbour View private crematorium in greenbelt land near Lytchett Minster in Dorset. ‘It was a sensitive site that was quite visible, so we had to go above and beyond in the architectural style and detailing,’ says Turvey. The design of the £40m building, which has a tree-lined walkway from the car park to a grassy bund, before the path crosses over a moat, was designed to lead mourners on a gentle journey as well as to create a building that blended into the landscape.

‘The moat was inspired by the idea of the River Styx, that you need to cross over. As you cross the bund there’s a breathing space before you enter the building, so people can start to prepare themselves.’ The cremators and other functional aspects are underground, with the surface level comprising a spacious hallway, a chapel and a function room. ‘It’s a simple layout to negotiate at a sensitive time,’ says Turvey. ‘There’s a circular roof light that creates a shaft of light as you go through to the chapel, which is lined with Purbeck stone and is north-facing, so the light is subdued. As you move into the darker room it prepares you emotionally.’ Afterwards, mourners take their refreshments in the lighter, south-facing function room with views across the Purbeck Hills and can spend time wandering around the 70-acre grounds as the private facility only has two services a day.

Inspired by Neolithic burial chambers on the outside, Sacred Stones’ circular barrows have a light touch on the landscape, going no deeper into the soil than normal tillage and using ancient dry stone walling techniques combined with lime mortar. Inside, the spaces for cremated remains can be personalised with engravings on the glass doors. The barrows are intended to serve the surrounding communities and provide a non-religious, yet spiritual, space where rituals can be shared. Design: Sacred Stones. Image credit: Amit Geron.Inspired by Neolithic burial chambers on the outside, Sacred Stones’ circular barrows have a light touch on the landscape, going no deeper into the soil than normal tillage and using ancient dry stone walling techniques combined with lime mortar. Inside, the spaces for cremated remains can be personalised with engravings on the glass doors. The barrows are intended to serve the surrounding communities and provide a non-religious, yet spiritual, space where rituals can be shared. Design: Sacred Stones. Image credit: Amit Geron.

While some designers are concentrating on providing a more personal experience, there are other occasions when personal and public grief needs to be recognised simultaneously. Etan Kimmel of Kimmel Eshkolot Architects was responsible for the Mount Herzl Memorial Hall in the hills outside Jerusalem. A stunning funnel-shaped formation opens the memorial to the sky and floods the space with ever-changing natural light, while 23,000 stone bricks each bear the name of a fallen Israeli soldier and the date of death, with a light-candle illuminating the plaque on that day every year. ‘Upon entering the memorial hall visitors leave the noisy city behind,’ explains Kimmel. ‘The interior architecture and design guides visitors into a new mindset of contemplation and sacredness with its minimalist material scheme (concrete and Jerusalem stone) along with the connection to the outside sky and natural sunlight through its central funnel. The memorial is designed to function as both an individual and collective mourning experience. Digital touch pads allow mourners to search for their deceased loved ones and locate their specific engraved stone along the spiral walkway to the top. A soldier’s specific stone becomes a private mourning place for the family, while the wall of names as a whole becomes the entire nation’s mourning place. Each morning, a memorial service is conducted at the top of the memorial honouring the fallen on the date of their decease, ensuring mourning families that no fallen solider will ever be forgotten.’

The Commonwealth War Memorial will stand on the cliffs at Dover, looking out towards France. As visitors wander through the 12 giant slabs of Portland Stone, they will see a thousand names of fallen soldiers carved into every metre of rock. The monument is intended to promote peace, by bringing home the level of loss caused by war to a generation that has never known serious conflict. The £35m monument is being funded by the LIBOR fines imposed on banks by the chancellor. Architect: Baca Architects. Landscape architect: Craft:Pegg. Client: Dover District Council. Heritage: Urban Council. Structural engineer: WSPThe Commonwealth War Memorial will stand on the cliffs at Dover, looking out towards France. As visitors wander through the 12 giant slabs of Portland Stone, they will see a thousand names of fallen soldiers carved into every metre of rock. The monument is intended to promote peace, by bringing home the level of loss caused by war to a generation that has never known serious conflict. The £35m monument is being funded by the LIBOR fines imposed on banks by the chancellor. Architect: Baca Architects. Landscape architect: Craft:Pegg. Client: Dover District Council. Heritage: Urban Council. Structural engineer: WSP

‘Lest we forget’, that sentiment expressed in the UK every Remembrance Sunday, ensures that those who died in conflicts continue to be remembered, even when there are few left to mourn on a personal level. Coutts of Baca, along with landscape design company Craft:Pegg, is working on the Commonwealth Memorial in Dover that will bear the name of every Commonwealth service person killed in both the First and Second World Wars. Overlooking the sea, the memorial will take the form of a series of 12 Portland Stone slabs with engraved names. In this project there is no attempt to comfort the grieving or soften the loss – instead it has been designed to bring home the reality of war to those for whom it is a subject in the history books. ‘It’s a very austere, solemn memorial with a weight and a gravity to it that will call to mind the enormity of loss,’ says Coutts. ‘As you make your way through the memorial, for every metre you walk you will see a thousand names. It’s a very sobering and solemn experience.’

The Commonwealth War Memorial will stand on the cliffs at Dover, looking out towards France. As visitors wander through the 12 giant slabs of Portland Stone, they will see a thousand names of fallen soldiers carved into every metre of rock. The monument is intended to promote peace, by bringing home the level of loss caused by war to a generation that has never known serious conflict. The £35m monument is being funded by the LIBOR fines imposed on banks by the chancellor. Architect: Baca Architects. Landscape architect: Craft:Pegg. Client: Dover District Council. Heritage: Urban Council. Structural engineer: WSPThe Commonwealth War Memorial will stand on the cliffs at Dover, looking out towards France. As visitors wander through the 12 giant slabs of Portland Stone, they will see a thousand names of fallen soldiers carved into every metre of rock. The monument is intended to promote peace, by bringing home the level of loss caused by war to a generation that has never known serious conflict. The £35m monument is being funded by the LIBOR fines imposed on banks by the chancellor. Architect: Baca Architects. Landscape architect: Craft:Pegg. Client: Dover District Council. Heritage: Urban Council. Structural engineer: WSP

And there lies the power of the architectural form. As Kimmel puts it: ‘Funerary architecture is expected to play a special and important role. The architecture is built to foster a spiritual connection, creating a sacred space for grieving, memorialisation and hope. I believe that architecture has the tools to do this.’ 








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