Top 5 Modernist Cemetery Designs of All Time

By Guest Contributor Omer Arbel

October 16th, 2012

Kaze-no-Oka Cemetery

5. Kaze-no-Oka Cemetery by Fumihiko Maki (Nakatsu, Oita, Japan)
A quiet place. Here the architect has removed visual noise to make a place of contemplation and light.

San Michele Cemetery

4. San Michele Cemetery by Gian Antonio Selva with extension by David Chipperfield (Venice, Italy)
A strange mirror equivalent to Venice itself, Selva’s cemetery is a labyrinthine, decorative and complex urban landscape for the dead, into which Chipperfield intervenes (or renovates, or even, operates), in the grand, conservative manner of an urban planner analyzing abstractly from above (urging in our minds a comparison to Haussmann in Paris). The result is disjunctive, but its power cannot be denied.

Skogskyrkogården Cemetery

3. Skogskyrkogården Cemetery by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz (Stockholm, Sweden)

Here we have a profound project, in that it is at once deeply, darkly emotional and meticulously, rigorously rational. Only this vintage of Nordic modernism has achieved such a bizarre and powerful balance. Especially in the winter, this otherworldly, solemn landscape unfolds with moments of both terror and ecstasy, all framed in a calm, straightforward sequence, and bathed in the white-yellow, super-crisp, high contrast, low saturation horizontal light particular to the Nordic north.

Brion-Vega Cemetery

2. Brion-Vega Cemetery by Carlo Scarpa (near Treviso, Italy)
An idiosyncratic, unashamedly self-referential universe of fringe poetry expressed in careful detailing, which unfolds through a mystical exploration of materials and high craft. This is a dark, overgrown, and magical middle ground where doors are musical instruments, buildings are detailed to suggest the bending or even reversal of gravity, marble and rough poured concrete achieve equivalence, colours fizzle around the edges, and the dead seem to be, somehow, but playfully, mischievously, among us.

Igualada Cemetery

1. Igualada Cemetery by Enric Miralles and Carme Pinos (near Barcelona, Spain)
Perhaps the most sensitive, humane achievement in recent architectural history. Igualada cemetery is literally cut into an industrial wasteland, creating an incredibly powerful tension between the sacred and the profane. The built form is expressed as a circuitous, careful, slow, lyrical narrative of passage and arrival, set within a dusty, heavy Catalan terrain drenched alternatively in shadow and bright sunlight. Here we have a serious, compelling, intuitive, symbolic architecture that stands up to the task of doing justice in built form to both the anxieties and freedoms of contemporary attitudes towards death.

Omer Arbel leads OAO (Omer Arbel Office), a multidisciplinary design practice blurring the boundaries between the fields of building, industrial design, craft, invention and materials research. Notable works include a celebrated house called 23.2 and, with Corrine Hunt, the design of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Medals. Arbel also acts as Creative Director for the Design and Manufacturing company Bocci. Bocci’s focus is to develop open ended manufacturing procedures derived from material properties and fabrication methodology, resulting in different form in each iteration of the procedure. Notable works include 14 and 28, both ambient chandeliers which challange the conventional central sculptural format of the chandelier archetype.

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