Aalst, Belgium – Although grief seems an unlikely companion for architecture, in embracing this complex emotion architects are building spaces for mourning and memorialization that carry an awareness of death and bereavement. Ceremonies for the loss of a loved one are highly sensitive and personal, yet the settings in which they occur are borrowed environments that often fail to offer comfort to mourners. A church, for example, can isolate those who don’t participate in organized religion, and a crematorium can feel more industrial than inviting. Can architecture reshape the way we bid farewell to the departed?
Amsterdam architecture studio HofmanDujardin approached the subject with a concept design. The Funeral Ceremony Centre has no client and no plans for construction. It’s a response to architect Michiel Hofman’s personal experience. After organizing a gathering to remember a close friend, Hofman had no choice but to rent a space that didn’t feel right for the occasion. ‘Most of these environments don’t match our expectations,’ he said. ‘The architecture doesn’t help you to understand what’s going on.’
His solution is a series of three spaces with assembly rooms on either side of a place for the coffin; curved walls characterize this central area. The layout reflects the most important aspects of a funeral: shared remembrance, contemplation and the rekindling of friendships following the loss of a loved one. In HofmanDujardin’s proposal, architecture adds an extra dimension to the experience and attempts to ease the mourners’ sorrow. In moving through the building, they encounter the stages of collectively saying goodbye.
The notion of imbuing such spaces with a sense of direction also appears in the technically demanding architecture of a crematorium. Rotterdam-based Kaan Architecten designed and realized Crematorium Siesegem, a serene structure in Aalst, Belgium, that lies within an undulating landscape of hills, ponds and trees. The austere building’s function is unrecognizable from the outside. Its single entrance ushers visitors into a network of rooms that accommodates up to 12 services a day.
My ambition was to make a building that would guide people in their emotion