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Trends in Crematorium Design

Trends in Crematorium Design

Trends in Crematorium Design
by Mark Doohan, CBCE 2023

A short bit of history, I think we’re in a wave of new crematoria emerging across the UK. When we went to some architectural awards, there were three new crematoria all being nominated for national design awards and that’s something I’ve never seen before. I think when I was a student there was one project in university where you had to design a crematorium and that was because it was such a poetic idea, creating spaces for people at the end of life, for people who were still alive to remember their loved ones.

Historically there have been two key phases of crematoria being built across the UK, in that first period between 1902 when Golders Green was put up. In 1904 there were just nine operating in the UK and then we had a period of expansion over twenty years and the lead up to WW2, by which point there were about twenty-five being built within three years. Then there was a period of not many crematoria being built until we got to the 60’s after the war.
In 1952 there was the first kind of design standards by the Government around what should be in a crematorium and how they should be designed. Following that, there was an unlocking of new crematoria over a 17-year period.

Because this is becoming our area of expertise, we’ve done a body of research using the Cremation Society’s Directory of Crematoria, which lists all the statistics from all the crematoria across the UK. As architects, we think 3-dimensionally so we took it upon ourselves to turn this into a useful document for reference, so if a customer comes to us asking for a crematorium for 60 people in a space then we know that we can make this space for 60 people, it will change the size of all these spaces relatively so that we know what size of office function is needed to support a crematorium of that size; how many parking spaces, what the flower court should be, all those kinds of things. We take that data that you can all get hold of, and we turn it into something that can spatially be used.

If you’re thinking about a new crematorium, or if you have an existing one and you want to adapt it then an architect should be taking this data, turning it into a flow diagram, thinking about which spaces should be adjacent to other spaces so that the flow for the bereaved and the families is simple. And, that the back-of-house function is smooth and that those two functions do not unnecessarily overlap with each other.
In terms of trends in design, it’s important that aside from all that research, you’re listening to your customer and you’re hearing from your customer. The customer in my instance for the design of a building is made up of different stakeholders, and in this instance, there are quite a lot of stakeholders. We have a bereaved family and their experience of a building, we have the operations team, we have a technical facility and then we have funeral directors coming back and forth from the facilities.

Flexibility of capacity - that’s quite key in modern crematoria design. Integration of landscape jumps out a lot and that idea of being much more connected to the burial ground or the memorial gardens – a visual connection sometimes. This idea of it being a hopeful space, thinking about what the crematorium should be and whilst obviously you’re never there necessarily for a good purpose, in our view it should be a light and airy, hopeful kind of space which gives people hope for the future.
Other things we’re seeing change in are the thoughts on catafalque options. Is it automated and is it seen? Is that something that’s veiled? Is that something that is covered by a curtain? Do the doors close? Is it left untouched? We’re seeing a lot of conversation around the changing thoughts about what should happen.

12 June 2024

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