Memorandum by Andy Clayden and Dr Jan
Woudstra (CEM 91)
Long-term planning for new cemeteries and burial
space: & the management and provision of cemetery services.
"A cemetery is not an all-weather pitch,
neither is it simply a nature reserve: it is a complex, historical
and social cultural legacy of great emotional meaning"
After decades of neglect the 1990s have seen
a renewed interest in the various issues relating to cemeteries.
Several reports have been published on different aspects and cemeteries
are now a regular news item in daily papers. Newspaper articles
picking up on the introduction of The Dead Citizens Charter
by Professor Malcolm Johnson, chairman of the National Funerals
College of Bristol University's Institution of Health and Ageing
in 1998, claimed the average British funeral was a "miserable
and disappointing affair".
This reached the headlines after months of television programmes
and articles, which expressed a severe dissatisfaction with current
trends of commercialisation in burial practice. One large American
firm was highlighted as particularly guilty in the latest developments,
which did not cater for individual requirements. Other social
trends are the recognition of specific burial requirements for
different ethnic and cultural groups.
Recent publications also highlight the various
environmental issues arising from cemeteries. Lucinda Lambton
criticised the visual appearance of cemeteries, comparing them
to "the saddest Sixties development".
There is a demand to overcome the lack of identity and anonymity
of these places. The aesthetically poor environment is worsened
by a lack of maintenance and vandalism, and in those instances
where a minimal budget is still available, ill-considered maintenance
due to insufficient training. Added to this is the concern of
environmental groups with regard to pollution caused by burial
and cremation. This has encouraged green burial as an alternative
to these more traditional ways. On the other hand Victorian cemeteries
are being recognised as monuments and historic landscapes, as
shown in the English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens,
declaration of SSSI's, and as a result restrict re-use.
Some of the major public issues are those relating
to overcrowding of cemeteries, and thereby the re-use of graveyards.
This is immediately followed by demands for new cemeteries. The
requirement for new cemetery space has become a general concern.
Nevertheless there has been a severe lack of interest of landscape
architects in this country, who have traditionally avoided cemetery
design as an issue. This can be illustrated by the limited number
of publications on the topic, with no books on cemetery design
appearing in England since William Robinson's God's Acre Beautiful
published in 1888. This is in stark contrast to design of
cemeteries in other countries, where they have been heralded as
design icons, with examples such as Max Lauger's Osterholz
Cemetery in Bremen (1900), GN Brandt's Mariebjerg cemetery near
Copenhagen (1927-39), Gunnar Asplund and Siegurd Lewerentz's Woodland
Cemetery in Enskede near Stockholm (1915-40), and more recently
Enric Miralles' Iguadala Cemetery near Barcelona (1986). There
are many more examples, but these have not encouraged Britain
to take a lead.
In Britain the design of cemeteries is often
not given the consideration which it requires. Design solutions
are frequently dictated by functional requirements and not enough
attention is being given to their aesthetic, emotional and environmental
contribution. In this context design is seen as elitist and something
to be avoided. Design is being stifled because of a fear of doing
anything which may upset a perceived understanding of the requirements
of the bereaved. As a consequence this task has been handed over
to the administrators. These people do not have the training that
is required to understand a varied and complex range of different
landscape issues. In other countries this is addressed through
specialist design and horticultural training. For example in Germany
training is required for both administrators and horticulturalists.
Here cemeteries are not only considered as places for the practice
of burial and bereavement, but in a wider social context, which
must be integrated and make a contribution to the wider landscape
and the environment as a whole. Design is a consideration at this
large scale, but may also create the intimate spaces required
to provide the appropriate setting for bereavement. With the increasing
lack of space, we cannot afford to be singular about the use of
cemeteries; they will have to serve appropriate recreational needs
and be frequented, so that they become socially acceptable places.
They will also have to contribute to the local green structure
as part of urban sustainability in which they cater for both people
A thorough understanding of landscape and plant
growth and local characteristics is a prerequisite. In order to
provide for the full range of evolving requirements a flexible
framework that enables change and can be readily adopted is required.
Such spaces will be multi-dimensional and robust. Management issues
are considered at these early stages, not as the inevitable evil
after the landscape has been completed. Appropriately qualified
professionals are required for each stage; designers to bring
this from concept to execution, administrators to manage sites
and horticulturalists to maintain them. These operations should
be integrated and not seen as mutually exclusive. In this way
it may be possible for modern cemeteries to enjoy the same type
of civic pride that were a legacy of the Victorian era.
The lack of experience of designers in this
field during the latter period necessitates the need for further
research in order to achieve a fuller understanding as to what
has been produced during the previous century by reassessing design
issues. It would be important to contribute to the process of
general environmental improvement whilst also acknowledging and
responding to the social context. Landscape architecture ought
to harness these different efforts and provide designed solutions.
The following future research ought to be considered:
The assessment of cemeteries as a
provision for bereavement and memorial.
The catering for ethnic and social
groups within a multi-cultural society.
The role of cemeteries as a public
resource for recreation.
The potential contribution of cemeteries
The physical relationship with the
The identification of design criteria
by which new cemeteries may best meet public need.
The identification and learning from
the best practice of contemporary European examples.
Andy Clayden and Dr Jan Woudstra
Department of Landscape
University of Sheffield
34 Ken Worpole, The Cemetery in the City, (Comedia,
1997), 16. Back
Ruth Gledhill, "Funerals should not be dismal experience",
The Times, 23 November 1998. Back
Lucinda Lambton, "To paradise by way of Kensal Green",
The Independent, 3 March 1993. Back
eg see letters in The Times, 2, 8, 15, 19, 23 October 1998. Back