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Landscapes of Memory

Part 2 Project 2010
Helen Goodwin
Kingston University UK
Part disused landfill site, part former sewage works, a haphazard pocket of open space in the Roding Valley in Woodford - part of the London Development Agency’s ‘East London Green Grid’ - is transformed by the placement of a crematorium, columbarium and cemetery into a memorial park and nature reserve. Here the dead can linger in the minds of the living amidst the wildflower meadows of a fertile yet previously severed piece of river valley that once again becomes responsive to the ebb and flow of the seasons.

Hidden beneath the escarpments and pilotis of the M11, the extents of this peripheral landscape are defined by the surrounding urban sprawl, representing in all its banality the humdrum practicality of an early C20th suburban ideology. By contrast, this heterotopic space - neither metropolitan parkland nor rural idyll - endures as a beguiling wilderness, a place of individual reverie. A forensic study of the ground condition here informs a strategy for the landscape which brings order where there is none and offers flood attenuation to an urban area under threat.

The proposal articulates a journey taking the visitor from city to nature, grief to reconciliation, public to private, with the crematorium building sitting in the landscape as a threshold between these states and the journey culminating in a garden of remembrance on higher ground. The experience is of a sequence of poetic settings articulated by light, texture and space, settings which mark stages on a journey - conceptually a journey through the forest of which the building forms an edge. The funerary chapel, where light descends to the sunken catafalque - a ‘clearing in the forest’ - marks the pivotal moment on this journey where public remembrance turns into private grief, before the landscape offers itself as a reconciliatory tonic.

By heightening an awareness of natural cycles and of the fragile beauty of this beguiling urban landscape, its potential as valuable open space and as a constantly renewable resource within the suburban fabric is brought to the fore. A resting place for the dead is reinstated at the heart of a community.

Helen Goodwin

Helen's thesis proposes a new crematorium situated in the diverse landscape of the Roding Valley in East
London. Parts of this valley embody a manifestly Thatcherite social order - like a relic from the 1980s that somebody forgot to change. The dominance of the private car, the absence of quality public space and segregation by tax bracket leave a nasty aftertaste. But this is a superficial reading of a complex and still contested ground stretching from the borders of Epping Forest to Barking Creek. Along the way the river valley laces through the pilotis of the elevated M11, slides unseen below Charlie Brown's roundabout, plays host to high voltage lines and paddocks, football grounds and derelict munitions depots.

Following a series of walks transecting these diverse territories, Helen set about recording this place, drawing a portrait of an abused and re-engineered pocket of landscape - at turns, bucolic, pathetic, muscular and civic - and suggesting a new role for it through her proposals for a crematorium and columbarium. The strength of Helen’s work lies in her ability to play on the existing ambiguities of the landscape and align them to the process of grieving which has both a public and a private face.

The broader landscape proposals remake part of the ground as a ‘polder’ where mourners are free to scatter ashes amidst water meadows where the seasonal fluctuations of the water table, the grass and blossoming flowers are made apparent. Elsewhere, a strengthened tree line reinforces a distinct boundary between the meadows on one side and fields facing suburban Redbridge on the other. The crematorium and chapels become a moment of intensity where this boundary is both emphasised and crossed maximising the emotional potential of this undervalued landscape.

The building mediates subtly between the ceremonial formality of an arcade and the informal earthiness of a pagan hut. This Janus faced building offers a range of places for grief, memory and remembrance in a way that is both reassuring and surprising.

Mr Christian Frost

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