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In the early days of the pandemic, the concerns centered around hospitals becoming overwhelmed with patients, but in the days that followed, a new worry emerged: what will we do with all these dead bodies? In China, burials were quickly outlawed, and cremation was mandated. In India, mass cremations were held. In the United States, cities brought in refrigerated trucks to preserve the mounding dead bodies and inmates were tapped to dig mass graves. Funerals were livestreamed or postponed in order to comply with shelter-at-home mandates. How might we reimagine funerary spaces and services in response to these forces? How can we offer our dearly departed loved ones a dignified departure?
I have envisioned the Corona Cairn Crematorium as a response to the SARS-COV-II pandemic. My parti is an urn set into the earth. Visitors to the Corona Cairn Crematorium must undergo an odyssey like Odysseus through the underworld in order to engage in the ritual mourning and confront their grief. After winding down one of six pathways, a mourner stands before a tall, frameless glass door. Foot pedals provide touchless entry. The mourner passes through a curved hallway of warm grey concrete, at the end of which is a built-in sink for ritual and sanitary hand washing. The mourner proceeds into the main memorial hall. Here the ceilings are tall. The light is warm and diffused. Elongated mushroom cap columns create a forest of stalactites. The space is cavernous and evocative of the underworld. Dimly lit amber LED light bars line the columns, creating a stroboscopic effect as mourners move through the space in a continuous, socially distanced motion. As mourners circumambulate the altar at the center, pictures of the decedent are projected onto the walls, and the eulogy is played over concealed speakers. As the mourner spirals into the center of the chamber, they extinguish a candle on the altar to symbolize the passage of the decedent into the afterlife. The decedent’s ashes rest inside a glass “urn” on the altar at the very center of the chamber and extending to the ceiling from which the ashes are originally dropped at the commencement of services. Mourners vacate the chamber in the same continuous motion as they entered it. Ascending an opposing ramp into the light and fresh air in gratitude of life.
Below the main chamber, a secondary chamber exists for fellowship, reception, and the collection of the decedent’s urn. This chamber is wrapped in a columbarium where traditional urns may be stored along with a mirroring picture of the decedent. This lower benedictory chamber is darker, only illuminated with narrow-beam spot lights from the high ceiling. This is a solemn and sacred space, reserved for the immediate loved ones. A “Resurrection Forest” surrounds the crematorium. It is populated with trees grown from Capsula Mundi tree pod urns. Mourners can visit the forest that grows from the ashes of their loved ones.
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