Dead Among the Living: Burning Bodies in Inner City Wellington
The architecture of cremation has struggled to embrace an identity; it has remained ambiguous in its architectural typology and religious association since it was first introduced into western society. Additionally, the absence of a ritual place for death in urban life is one manifestation of the contemporary idea that death does not belong in the modern living city. Death is seen as having no place in a society obsessed with youth and vigour; it has become an architectural taboo. The increased reluctance to physically address death as the inevitable consequence to life has resulted in death associated architecture eroding to the point where it has become absent in our everyday lives. With the expansion of Wellington during the 1800’s, cemeteries formerly on the outskirts (Mount and Bolton Streets) became engulfed by the sprawling city. Overflowing with corpses by the 1900’s, these sites now remain dormant, eliminating any opportunity for the public to ‘see’ death daily. Situating a crematorium within a Wellington urban context will not only address this issue, but also successfully meet the demand for more burial spaces, as Makara Cemetery is nearing capacity, and Karori Cemetery is already full. A site located in the ‘dead centre’ of Wellington’s central business district becomes the testing ground for a new urban crematorium – one that aims to reduce the anxiety around death by inclusion of it within people’s everyday lives. It aims to provide mourners with a more meaningful experience, and the general public a cosmopolitan necropolis. The presence of an urban crematorium and columbarium provides continual opportunities for people to reflect on their own mortality, honour and remember the dead, and be reminded to live while they can. A methodological approach of testing architectural sequences in relation to pattern language theory will allow for a thematic progression for mourners from sorrow to acceptance through the use of light, shadow, and sectional arrangements. This investigation into the meaningfulness of relationships between people and buildings, life and death, translates into spaces ready to be further invested with meaning by mourners.