What if
cemeteries were designed to disintegrate rather than to endure?


Cemeteries are landscapes created to hold the physical remains of people who have died. These landscapes are sometimes among the only physical remnants of past settlements and civilisations. As well as holding the physical traces of past burial practices, cemeteries can also be ‘read’ for the ways in which they embody ideas about how the world is organised, and about the relationships between life and death. These may include ideas of permanence, of perpetuity, of memory and continuity. They may include ideas of what is believed to happen to people after death, and about the appropriate relationships between the realms of the living and the dead. These ideas can vary greatly across different cultures, religious groups and historical periods.

Yet, even landscapes that have been constructed in durable materials to preserve memory will begin to change and decay almost as soon as they are established. Many cemeteries thus demonstrate a constant tension between the desire for preservation of a particular view of the world and the place of humans within it, and the processes of transformation, which challenge not just the physical fabric of the cemetery landscape, but also the belief systems on and for which they are created.  

What if cemeteries were designed to acknowledge the transient nature of human life by being built to disintegrate? What rituals might such a cemetery require, or make possible? Where could such cemeteries be established?  How might a cemetery be designed to allow for its eventual transformation into another kind of landscape type and use? How might such a landscape create new opportunities for and for non-human life as well as living humans? How might a cemetery designed in the end of the second decade of the twenty first century tell the visitors of the future about how the people who designed and made it imagined their world? What traces, if any, might remain?

Katrina Simon