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The Architecture Of Death

Part 1 Project 2010
Karman Wan
Kingston University, UK
London’s ever-growing population of 7.5 million people are finding it increasingly difficult to find burial plots, a problem, which the British Government tried to resolve in the 1830s. Following a great increase in birth rates due to the Industrial Revolution, London’s population rose from 1.1million in 1801 to 2.3 million in the space of 50 years. With a passing of a bill that encouraged the development of privately owned cemeteries located outside of the city, seven cemeteries dubbed ‘the Magnificent Seven’ came to fruition.

For the first time, the dead and the living were separated but despite this, the Victorians felt the need to design cemeteries as public parks, regarding cemeteries and public spaces as well as being a functional place of burial.

A problem that has arisen from the lack of burial spaces is the continuing need to establish cemeteries on the margins of town and city centres. This leads to a great detachment amongst the living and the dead, a natural experience is lost. Local burials allowed opportunities for the bereaved to perform funeral rites and processional rituals, where the funeral cortege would follow the coffin to the grave.

As many historic cemeteries are now reaching their maximum capacity, burials are happening outside of the community breaking the connection that the living and dead once had. It is suggested that Barking and Dagenham have only twelve operational years remaining till the cemeteries can no longer sustain the local communities needs.

Barking Abbey Green is an under-used and under-utilised space, lending itself to be prime for regeneration, to provide the community with an accessible public amenity space and more importantly a local burial plot which is self-sustainable. This reconnection allows Barking to establish itself within the wider green network of east London.

One solution to the increasing concerns over the disjointing of cemeteries from the local community and the lack of burial plots is time-leased, above ground interments, a model in which large parts of Europe have adopted.

Karman Wan

Karman Wan
Kingston University

The Architecture of Death

The idea of a final resting place is a Victorian notion which is now outdated. The refusal to reuse burial spaces has led to serious social and sustainability issues. Due to overcrowding, new cemeteries are being created further and further away from the community they are meant to serve creating a separation between the bereaved and the deceased, between society and death. Karman Wan investigates how a cemetery can be re-integrated into the city to serve the residents who will one day be interred there, their bereaved visitors, and provide a well-maintained public amenity space for the entire community while addressing the economical, environmental, and social sustainable issues of burial.

Once the site of the most powerful abbey in England, Barking Abbey, Abbey Green now stands as a traffic island separating the town centre of Barking from the River Roding that used to provide the abbey and town with their greatest resource. Twentieth century traffic “improvements” isolated the original nucleus of the town, the 7th century abbey ruins, adjacent medieval St. Margaret’s church and churchyard, from the newer town centre and demolished the adjacent industrial and housing estates.
Through a reading of the historic site maps, Karman proposes the reinstitution of Heath Street, completely destroyed by 1977, to serve as a connection between the city and the river, uncovering a city that is no longer alive, a city of the dead. The configuration of the cemetery follows an almost archaeological approach by placing mausoleums and loculi on the footprints of the now demolished historic urban fabric.
Karman’s proposal also pays careful attention to tectonic explorations of the use of concrete in different ways and finishes. Throughout a series of careful and beautiful drawings and models he reveals the urban and spatial qualities of the new cemetery as a both as a place for eternal rest and public space. Karman shows a mature and sophisticated approach to the urban complexities of a project of this scale and scope.

Karin Templin
Alfredo Caraballo
Max Rengifo


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