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Book Review: CRÈME DE LA CREMATORIUM

New book prepares Crematoria for the architectural spotlight

Goodbye Architecture: The Architecture of Crematoria in Europe

James Way for Artchitects Newspaper writes

CoverLong a taboo subject, death is becoming a hot topic in architecture. Not since the 1980s has a book devoted to architecture and death been published, and many merely examine historical temples, tombs, and rites. Responding to an increase in cremation, Vincent Valentijn and Kim Verhoeven have authored Goodbye Architecture: The Architecture of Crematoria in Europe, a book collecting Europe’s finer examples of architecture that does indeed burn.

The book design, also by the authors, strikes a perfect balance between an image-laden coffee table book and a text-heavy treatise. Each of the 26 highlighted projects opens with a site plan, a building axonometric, the number of ovens, the number of incinerations per year with the percentage of type, as well as the size and program dedications. Spreads of photos, plans, and sections unfold with descriptions of context, conceptual approach, materials, and special features, punctuated with circulation diagrams: one for the deceased and another for visitors. Analytics, interviews, and essays follow.

Cremation’s resurgence in the West is recent—Japan has long had a near 100 percent cremation rate while Islam forbids it. Despite the Vatican’s ban from 789 until 1963, the first modern crematorium was built in Milan in 1876 following the unveiling of a new oven at the World Exhibition in Vienna. Incineration caught on slowly, mainly by “cultural and intellectual elites,” and has grown steadily since the 1990s. Currently, over a thousand crematoria perform two million services every year.

 

How the crematoria weigh technical issues, context, and local customs varies widely, and this is where Valentijn and Verhoeven’s research shines. Many facilities have undergone renovations and extensions to meet stricter emissions standards. For the crematorium in Aarhus, Denmark, designed in 1969, Henning Larsen returned for the 2011 upgrade and in the process enhanced its sustainability. Condoned by both the city council and the local church, excess heat warms the chapel and other buildings within the district’s heating network.

 Goodbye Architecture: The Architecture of Crematoria in Europe
by Vincent Valentijn and Kim Verhoeven
nai010 publishers, $80 (US)

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