In bridging the gap between life and that which lies beyond, crematoria must serve not only as a place where bodies are stored, but also disposed of. Somewhere in between they must also play host to the necessary ritual and ceremony for the bereaved, all the while ensuring none of these steps appear to overlap with one another.
The simply-named New Crematorium, located just outside Stockholm, entailed a further demand for its designers, Johan Celsing Arkitektor, namely that it integrate seamlessly into the surroundings of Eric Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz’s 1940 Woodland Cemetery, widely viewed as a pinnacle of twentieth century cemetery design and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hence the title of the initial proposal: “A Stone in the Forest”.
Reflecting the idea that death is merely the companion (rather than the opposite) to life, the notion of “bridging” permeates the design of this single-storey structure: the brick exterior has been carefully chosen to match the colour of the surrounding tree bark, convincingly linking built environment to that of the natural. This connection with the landscape is maintained inside, with large windows offering open views out into the forest and skylights that allow the play of light and shadow onto the white concrete interior. Eschewing the theatrical trappings of many traditional funeral buildings, the architects chose to leave the walls largely untreated throughout both the chapel and cremation areas; linking the two instead. This offers an honest indication – though more gentle hint than blunt reminder – of what has to happen here.
Johan Celsing was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1955. A graduate of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in 1981, he first worked in the offices of Carl Nyrén and Bengt Lindroos in the same city, before establishing his own office Johan Celsing Arkitektor in 1985. In 1993 the practice completed its first built work, the Nobel Forum in Stockholm and since then has continued to produce architecture which is in keeping with the principles of “the robust and the sincere”, frequently placing traditional Swedish materials within a contemporary context. The practice has offices in Malmö and Stockholm. In 2015 The New Crematorium at the Woodland Cemetery received a nomination for the Mies van der Rohe European Union Prize for contemporary architecture.
Continuing this honest approach, whilst referencing the act of procession – a key element in the architecture of death for centuries – careful consideration has also been given to the entrance area to the crematorium: for few moments in life can be as jarring as that of arrival at a funeral. The approach leads onwards but also upwards, a gentle ascent that not only prepares mourners, but also reflects the whole site’s concern with the inevitability of this journey, yet one – hopefully – to something higher. I (fs)