For many people it is essential to have a place where one can remember and mourn a deceased. It is often the last link. This project explores an alternative way to handle the ash and how architecture can help to bring the dead and the living closer.
A crematorium is a machine where cremation takes place. In the year 2011, 89,938 people died in Sweden, and of them was 79 percent cremated. The cremation process works as follows: after a conducted funeral ceremony the dead body enters the furnace with a minimum temperature of 730°C. No actual burning of the body is done, most of all organical mass is transferred to hot gas. The combustion process will take some time, depending on the body weight and coffin size and more. The remainder of the body is calcined bones and skeletal remains which then goes through a process where everything crumbles into ashes. The ashes are then often stored in an urn. There are a number of ways to take care of the ashes. Some of the most common method is to put it in an urn grave. It is also possible to sprinkle the ashes in nature, such as in a lake, sea or in the forest but it requires a license.
How is it that we in Sweden do not make use of other methods? For example, to collect the ashes in a columbarium?
Limhamn quarry is located approximately 5 km southwest of Malmö city center.
It is a man-made 70 meters deep quarry surrounded by 20 meter high podium precipices. The limestone quarry is now a nature reserve with lots of animals and plants. The majority of the landscape consists of fine- and coarse-grained limestone steppe and fragile slopes. The in influx of both fresh and brackish water has given rise to a very special environment.
What you can see, exits
The project is based on the idea to collect the ashes of the deceased in an stone carved urn and then place it in a specific location in the nature reserve. Each urn is designed so that it can be combined with other urns placed upon it. Over time, these “urnstones” will build an irregular circular open chapel. There is an invisible grid that extends out over the quarry. In selected intersections, a unique “urnchapel” will with time emerge.
What you can see, exits. Or? It makes us at least to believe that it exits. The visual makes the abstract and lost more tangible and present. This leads many of us to believe and feel that we are closer to the dead. It was therefore important to give each deceased, their own stoneurn, which overtime is creating these open but enclosed spaces in the landscape. Urn after urn, more and more chapels created and the dead will again be exposed and felt by the living.
The task was to plan a crematorium with associated chapels and functions. The building is situated in the northern section of the quarry. Mainly because it is the part that is closest connected to Malmö in the form of public transportation, housing and parking. Moreover, there is already paved paths down to the location. The crematorium is mostly below ground but is visible in a number of places. There will be an underground escalator and elevator which takes you diagonally down to the bottom of the quarry. However, there are other ways to reach the bottom of the quarry.
Carved in stone
The ashes of a deceased is collected in a rectangular metal container which is then pushed into the urnstone. On the outside of the container is the dead person’s name and date engraved. The name plates are visible inside the urnchapels.
There is an incredibly rich flora and fauna in the limestone quarry. A species that I chose to focus on was the bird Riparia riparia. This brown gray and white swallow nests always in the groups and settles usually in burrows that are around 10cm to 120cm deep.
Each stone urn has on their short sides of an opening where the swallow and the other plants and animals can settle down. It has been elemental for the project to create space for animals and plants. The goal is that the chapels with the passage of time grows together with the nature reserve.
Everything is one
This project will require major intervention in the nature reserve. Each urnchapel will have a concrete foundation that it is based on. In other words, it will require a lot of concrete and stone in the next centuries. In the end, when this natural monument been completed, there will be 1348 the chapels. This process will take the 449 years. Generation after generation will take the responsibility to continue this tradition. The whole process is based on my own calculated estimation that the quarry will be provided 1852 urnstone each year. This means that around five urnstones will be montaged per day in the quarry, which is enough for about three to five urnchapels pro year.
Although the landscape will be torn up at their places of both machinery and visitors, the focus is therefore only on a minimal part out of the whole quarry. During the construction of a chapel the best transport routes will be chosen. When a chapel is done, the next process begins and new transport routes will be taken, so that nature can heal.
Why create large structures in a nature reserve? The lime quarry’s very existence is a result of man’s desire to make money. To survive. Does it mean that quarry is unnatural because it is made by humans? Animals and plants certainly seems happy in this “unnatural”, which leads me to believe that man, through his intervention can create places for all life. We are born and we die. Death is a big part of our lives even though we very rarely talk about it. It affects us all, whether we like it or not.
Can architecture bring us closer to our dead loved ones? I think it can. Especially when it symbolizes something abstract three-dimensional. For there is something special happening inside when we encounter an object, in this case a urnstone symbolizing a departed soul.
It feels a little closer.