Memorials, Cremation Containers, Death and Design: Part I

by J. Malec

 Brion Cemetery - photo by J. Malec

Photo: Brion Cemetery by J. Malec

Applying Design to Death and Cremated Ashes

The goal of design involves seamlessly blending function with form. Not surprisingly, designers exploring death come up with ingenious ideas. How can death be addressed through imagination, reality, and applied in functional form?

Below are a few themes relating to death and design that caught our attention.

  • the urn as a dwelling that inspires ash architecture
  • memorials experienced as a vision of and for those we love
  • a concrete vessel made with cremation ashes for a loved one’s possessions
  • gardens as sanctuaries for being present to our lost loved one, as well as to our memories
  • cremation ashes become a rainfall
  • mushrooms that aid in a green memorial
  • a game that encourages “unhiding” death and provides stimulation for conversations

This sense of material poetry speaks to the human condition and issues around death and dying. How do we address these inevitabilities practically, as well as with sensitivity toward the individual?

Creative Cremation Urns

Greg Lundgren of Lundgren Monuments, a memorial boutique in Seattle, sums up his approach by saying: “The architects are to approach the cremation urn as dwelling: the last, smallest house one will every [sic] buy and inhabit.” Designers often start with a pithy seed of insight into the natural world, and then extrapolate a design. This has the potential to elevate how we experience the memorialization of a loved one.

Lundgren Memorials identifies creativity as commonly missing from cremation architecture and memorial design in general. Noted on their website is the following perspective:

It only takes one trip to your local funeral home to see that the choices available are bleak and rather depressing. In our survey of American death care, we found a severe void of creative talent working in memorialization and urn design and a shocking amount of mass-produced, poorly conceived and plain ugly designs. … Our boutique is a platform for the contemporary artist and visionary to propose new ideas and ways to honor the people we love.

Originally curated by Lundgren Monuments, the ‘Architect and the Urn’ exhibition was conceived as the first exhibit of its kind. The cremation urn was the focus of architectural design. BUILD LLC was one of 25 architecture firms invited to participate in the show. Describing their design in a blog BUILD states:

The BUILD design uses the cremated remains as an aggregate within a concrete-like mixture, thereby creating a solid object. The object is cast with a hollow core and subsequently becomes a vessel to hold the cherished possessions of one’s life. These items could be anything from a favorite tie to a watch or a worn pair of glasses. In so doing, the urn reverses the relationship between the body and adornments.

Our investigation of design and its relationship with death continues in Memorials, Cremation containers, Death, and Design, Part II. We will explore the Mission Style Cremation Urn - Indigo. We will also take a look at specially designed funerary areas, and look at a “Death and Design” competition. Lastly we explore a game inspired by the idea of “unhiding” death.

J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.

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