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Death Amongst Density: Creating a new landscape of remembrance for Tokyo

Part 2 Project 2011
Alexander Wilson
University of Strathclyde, UK
Regardless of social or geographical condition, death is something that has or will come to pass for everyone. In certain regions, the sheer magnitude of population generates a set of very different considerations for dealing with death. As density increases, the resultant ‘turnover of life’ generates new, almost industrial scales to the processes required. Using the urban zones of Japan as a model, the beginning of this thesis investigates the importance of places created to process and remember the dead. It analyses the role of burial grounds as urban ‘records’ and assesses the sustainability of such places as they are swallowed by the metropolis.

Japan possesses an aging population, and the existing 4009 crematoria across the country are under tremendous strain. A study of eastern funerary process, and the spatial, programmatic and technical criteria this generates informs a brief for such a crematorium, inherently problematic to locate within such a dense urban environment.

Within Tokyo’s central Chuo Ward exists the historic footprint of a canal system branching inland from the Sumida river. Designed to protect the prized estates of Samurai lords, this now lies dry as a collection of leftover gardens, carparks and access routes to feed Tokyo’s highways. The culmination of this thesis proposes that a section of this former canal can be adapted to allow the insertion of a serene ‘memory ribbon’ within the pulsating core of Chuo City. In dialogue with the adjacent Tsukiji Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, a funerary journey begins with a public garden of remembrance sited above a high-capacity crematorium. The crematorium below leads out to a garden of columbaria whilst a beacon-like memorial hall completes the procession. The route is punctuated by both Chuo’s emblematic weeping willow tree and a series of glass towers which rise from the funerary halls below - glowing at night as a band of repose amidst the glittering lights of the city and emulating the traditional Japanese funeral lantern.

Alexander Wilson


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