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Exiling Death in the City

Part 2 Dissertation 2003
Andrew Rowson
University of Nottingham
This study examines the reasons behind the contemporary denial, exile and quarantining of death within the city. It draws attention to manifestations of this denial in both the modern city and modern society and explores the changing underlying cultural and social conditions. The study begins by showing how the diminishing influence of religion along with a new belief in the principles of Modernity have led to a situation where society has needed to remove the spectre of death from the everyday. It then goes on to look at the reasons why graveyards moved to the margins of the city in the nineteenth century, before also studying the corresponding influences on the form that these new developments took. The concept of the necropolis and its relationship to the metropolis is then latterly explored, charting its development from ancient times up to the present day where it exists not as a physical burial location, but as an idea and in a deconstructed form in the guise of other objects. This study subsequently then analyses the emergence of efficiency in death, looking at the way Modernity has changed our attitude towards cremation – for example in the Nazi death camps. This process is looked at from the point of view of the consequences that it has had on our cities and on the ritualistic aspect of death. Finally, three contemporary case studies are considered with regards to how they have each expressed the significance of death within the city.
Andrew Rowson


This dissertation examines the sensitive issue of death, as it pertains to the lived city. It explores the historical changes that have taken place concerning the celebration of death, and how burial and funeral procession have been exiled from the city. By taking the situations in ancient and Medieval cities as initial points of reference, Andrew seeks to highlight how critical cultural, political and ideological changes in the meaning of the city, coupled with the demise of religious authority, have contributed to a dislocation between lived experience and public mourning. Implicated in this change, as Andrew points out, is the emergence of selfhood in the modern age that gave new emphasis to a private ontology at the expense of a public realm. The modern crematorium, with its priorities of concealment and efficiency, could be said to be a consequence of this development. A large part of Andrew’s dissertation focuses on the 19th and 20th century, examining how the ‘quarantining’ of death in the hospital and the slaughter house reflects a larger cultural shift in the understanding of mortality. This finds expression in urban space and architecture, which Andrew highlights through various historical examples. The dissertation, which was used as the basis for a project to design an urban cemetery and memorial chapel in Nottingham, makes an important contribution to a much neglected topic in architecture.

2003
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