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A New Crematorium For Plymouth

Part 2 Project 2003
Martin Back
University of Plymouth | UK
‘Dwelling in Time : Partaking of Eternity’

The emotions of grieving and the 'ceremony' of good bye - the ritual passage from the profane to the sacred are perceived by the living as their final observance and celebration of the life of the deceased, before 'they' take their next 'journey'. It is also a comfort to them as survivors that have the resonance of 'earth to earth'. Architecture in supporting this process in being empathetic without being intrusive, has a difficult task, but one that must find tenderness, not sentimentality, an occasion without pomp, and awe without terror.

The primary intention of this [non denominational] scheme is to create a series of 'places' - a beginning, middle and an end - that support the events and emotions experienced by those sharing in the 'journey', and farewell of the deceased. The architecture must create a gentle transition without being intrusive by means of the series of spaces as one journey’s from the profane to the sacred,

This is achieved by creating three elements within the site, that introduce a hierarchy of special spaces all linked by a primary processional route through the site. These elements consist of a gathering and entrance [porte cochere] that receives the funeral party and leads into a porch and cloister that offers views of, and access to, the chapel gardens. The porch is entered through a ceremonial doorway divided by a massive wall, which is hung with heavy timbered doors. These open out to reveal the processional pathway leading to the chapels.

The Chapels - 110 and 30 seats – the second formal element and the most important stage in the journey - have been designed to create simple singular undiluted but powerful spaces [places of silence and contemplation need to be simple] which draws the light from the 'heavens', into a calm quiet space that has its focus not on the coffin, but on the officiator who will celebrate the life of the deceased. It is intended also that the building should speak of humility, simplicity, love and hope expressed in form, light and tectonics. This is also supported by using a limited palette of natural and handcrafted materials such as granite / stone, timber and bronze, all of which exhibit imperfections, metaphors for our own lack of perfection - our human-ness.

After the ceremony, people need places to hide, pause, chat and grieve, to find ways of saying their personal goodbyes. Therefore the layout of the flower courts, pathways and the garden of remembrance all provide private places, where people can find privacy for those moments.

The gardens of remembrance are placed down [in the ground] in the old reservoir and are designed to provide layers of privacy and intimate places for mourners and visitors alike.

Martin Back

Martin spent his diploma within the 'Zen' design studio and his final year project reflects the development of concerns related to its agenda's. In particular his choice of site and brief provided an ideal vehicle for exploring his concern with place, and the development of an architecture of 'empathy' towards the potential occupants of the building - both in terms of their everyday habitation and the existential support it aims to afford them. The final proposal demonstrates admirably the thoroughness and integrity with which Martin addressed these aims through his detailed consideration of light, materiality, acoustics, and habitation.

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