Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Skyscraper Cemeteries on the Rise.

Space shortages in countries around the world are raising an unnerving question. When we run out of cemetery space, where will we bury the dead?

In Oslo, Norway, architecture student Martin McSherry presented a "vertical cemetery" design to the Oslo Conference for Nordic Cemeteries and Graveyards as a solution to the country's growing burial land problem.

In McSherry's vision for Oslo, the deceased would find their final resting place in a tall skyscraper in the center of the city. The white, airy skyscraper design looks almost like a gigantic honeycomb with triangular caverns. It is a simple framework with an adjoining, permanent crane, which lifts caskets into slots inside the structure. The tower would continue to grow over the years, as this crane adds more plots. Eventually, the building would house the sum of the city's deceased citizens—a reminder and a memorial at the same time.

Sixty feet high, not six feet under.

"In time, the city's tallest and largest building will become a grave for all its citizens–the city's ever-changing monument," McSherry added. The precious land saved on the ground, in turn, would be used for parks and buildings for the living.

In looking at this solution, it helps to know a bit about Norway's situation. Norway, like many land-scarce countries in Europe, practices grave recycling. Every citizen is allotted 20 years in their grave before the land is reused for other bodies, unless your family renews your lease. It's a practical solution and it worked fine until World War II.

That was when Norwegian law began requiring that bodies be buried inside of air-tight plastic body bags; believing that the plastic tarps would prevent contamination of soil and water source. But when the first batch of graves was turned over for reuse, the bodies hadn't decomposed, thanks to the protection of the plastic. As a result, the country is quickly running out of places to bury its' citizens.

In an attempt to resolve this issue graveyard workers are injecting caskets with a limestone compound that accelerates decomposition for $670 per plot. That sounds expensive, but they've already treated 17,000 of them.

Graveyard space is vanishing globally.

Many countries are in the same position as Norway, including the United States. As Baby Boomers reach old age, all countries are confronting similar issues with land scarcity. The BBC reported that England is on the brink of running out of burial plots, while some researchers have calculated that it will take a Las Vegas-sized piece of land to bury the 76 million people expected to die in the U.S. between 2024 and 2042. In The New York Times, Christopher Coutts; Urban planning professor argued for America to adopt "unembalmed natural burials that allows cemetery plots to be reused after decomposition has occurred." These are also known as green burials in green cemeteries.

The skyscraper design might be new, but vertical burial sites are not. People have been creating them for ages. Necropoli have popped up all over European nations as they've invested in stacked burial plots. 

Vertical burial sites are not new.

In Egypt there’s Gebel al Mawta, or Egypt's Mountain of the Dead,a Roman-era burial site that rises high above the landscape of the Siwa Oasis.

European nations have long used stacking burial plots to form tall Necropoli, like this one in Italy.

New Orleans has long buried its' dead in stacked plots—a way to avoid the dead turning up during floods and storms in the low-lying city.

In Brazil, the Memorial Necropole Ecumenica has stacked the city's dead within its 32 stories of grave sites for 28 years.The development is the tallest cemetery in the world.

As a society, we worry about the moral issue of death. We are concerned about preserving the dignity of the dead, and we have a discomfort of death being put on display. 

The pretentious qualities of a skyscraper aren't what we're used to associating with our dearly departed. We'll have to get used to it in the future, as space for traditional cemeteries continues to disappear.

Nancy Burban 2014

Funeral fund

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