Cemeteries of the Future

Do you want to be buried in a coral reef, a skyscraper or on an artificial island?

Patrick Ward/Corbis

Most of us don’t like to think about death. But as the global population expands, the question of how to dispose of the deceased becomes more and more pressing. Some 55 million people die every year, and cemeteries are becoming ever more crowded. A growing number of designers and urban planners are tackling this issue with innovative concepts for cemeteries of the future. 

Where the dead light the night

A recent contest, held by the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath in England, asked designers to envision what a cemetery of the future might look like. Columbia University designers submitted the winning entry. Called “Sylvan Constellation,” the design uses biomass (in this case, the gas from decaying human bodies) to illuminate lanterns, casting a shifting matrix of light beams throughout the cemetery. The team will now explore installing the project at Britain’s historic Arnos Vale Cemetery. 

A floating cemetery island

In space-pressed Hong Kong, where cemetery crowding has been a problem for decades, many families keep the ashes of their dead loved ones in columbaria, or buildings and walls with niches for urns. But columbaria still take up space, and local residents often oppose the building of multi-story columbaria in their neighborhoods. That’s the background behind "Floating Eternity," a concept for a floating columbarium “island” developed by Hong Kong design firm Bread Studio. The island would remain offshore in the South China Sea, reachable by ferry, for most of the year, and then dock at the city during annual ancestor worship holidays. 

Spend eternity in a coral reef

Forget six feet under. How about 40 feet under? Under water, that is. The Neptune Memorial Reef, the largest manmade reef in the world, is an underwater mausoleum for cremated remains. The environmentally-friendly solution, off the coast of Miami, attracts a variety of sea life, helping restore some threatened species. The only downside is that you can only visit your loved one’s resting place if you’re willing to scuba dive. 

Skyscraper burial

There are already a number of multi-story cemeteries in existence, from Brazil’s 32-story Memorial Necropole Ecumenica to the 8-story Portland Memorial Mausoleum in Oregon. But this design concept, from French designers Fillette Romaric and Chandrasegar Velmourougane, is envisioned with beauty as well as practicality in mind. Their vertical cemetery has a skylight in the center, which allows sunlight to reflect on a pond at the ground level. A spiral walkway around the building allows for grave visits and offers stunning views of Paris. The idea was a finalist in the 2011 eVolo Skyscraper Competition. 

GPS headstones

As “green” or “natural” burials, where bodies are buried in fields or other natural settings without being chemically embalmed, become more popular, the question remains: how will loved ones be able to visit the deceased, in the absence of a headstone. Several cities and cemeteries have come up with a potential solution: GPS. The deceased would be buried with a GPS unit, and families would be given a tracker to “find” them when they came to visit.  

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