by Jincy IypeDec 15, 2021
If there is some collective certainty of our existence on this planet, it is of our demise. Regardless of our social standing, where and how we live, in poverty or richness, what we do or be, each one of us meets our end ultimately, practising countless speculative yet hopeful traditions in preparation for the life thereafter, while we live. “Mortality is the destiny shared by us all,” reaffirms Shi Zhou, Principal‐in‐charge of Studio 10 who personify within their earth-coloured monolith, the Hall of Immortality at Longshan Cemetery in China, the inescapability of death. “When its inevitability is a given, how do we handle death? Aside from the ancient traditions and rituals, what are our alternative options in terms of commemorating and perceiving death - whether it is the passing of our beloved ones or the end of our own journey of life?” she continues. Reverential and spiritual without being religious, the memorial architecture strives to seek answers to these questions throughout its form and essence.
The Longshan Cemetery is located on the barren hills west of Caipo Village, and caters primarily to the residents of Jiaozuo City and the rural neighbourhood of Xiuwu County, Henan Province in China. The building caters to up to 50 people and derives its ethos from the reinforced concrete, finished with earth-tone stucco that emphasises its monolithic nature, reminding one of the soil, where we come and go back to, as well as fortifying our relationship with the earth. The beige washed interior design sees constrained details in bronze, such as a star-shaped decoration that hangs above the altar inside. Marble clothes the podium and the altar, creating a soft, warm quintessential presence without compromising on the sublime atmosphere of the space.
“The memorial hall was named by the owner because we are essentially all “mortal”. However, experiencing and witnessing death may be one of those moments in life when we get closest to immortality – it is one when we are most intimately connected with nature, that reaffirms through mixing forever with the elements our eternal interconnection with everything else instead of the ultimate separation”, observes Zhou.
The Chinese architecture and design office relays that in rural areas of the country, it is expected that one follows certain laid and ancient traditions and ceremonies to memorialise the death of loved ones. However, with the development of the rural areas and the boom of the internet in recent years, younger generations are becoming keener to explore and find alternative or parallel methods, simpler and more contemporary routes to commemorate death. Because death is still considered a cultural taboo, the development of such ceremonial facilities lags behind these growing concerns, regardless of the audience.
“Hall of Immortality attempts to address the issue from a spatial perspective, and take it as a tipping point to draw attention to this spiritual need. It is not meant to replace the traditional ones, but to provide an extra option parallel to the traditional ones. It is not merely a venue for hosting ceremonies, but took a step further to accommodate and inspire people to contemplate death, life and nature, by introducing and emphasising the natural elements in architecture, such as light, clouds, water, rocks, and plants,” says Studio 10.
The triangular site of the humble memorial hall sits at the northwest corner of a backfilled mine area at the entrance of the main campus. Directly to the north, the plot rests adjacent to the incinerating area where mourners burn incense sticks and money as part of the traditional ritual, while a vehicular road and the main reception area lies to the west, resulting in a relatively chaotic surrounding to the site.
The plot has been enclosed with high, double skin walls on all three of its sides to lessen the dust and smoke from the traditional burning ritual, as well as sonorous prayers and moans of grief. This leaves a narrow slit on the hall’s south end, creating an introspective, quiet pocket of space that forces the visitor to dwell on their emotions, senses and the fundamental elements of nature that underscore it - light, water, soil, sky, clouds, rocks and trees – “These are not only the end but also the starting point of life, an infinite cycle,” the studio says.
Mourners wash their hands at the protruding fountain at the entrance, in preparation to head further on the perimeter walkway enclosed by the high concrete walls. The narrow gap formed between the eaves of the dark entrance porch with a low ceiling and wall reveals a warm strip of the sky, adorned by cypresses, successfully concealing the presence of the incinerating area at the other side of the wall.
While waiting to head into the main venue of the Hall of Immortality, one can seat themselves on the benches under the porch in contemplation, enveloped with the tangible passing of clouds, embracing the sun and the stark shadows it creates, through the choreographed gap.
Upon entering the main hall, sunlight gradually increases in its intensity, pouring down from the main skylights carved above the marble urn altar that rests stoically at the far end, as well as streaming in from the narrow slots on the walls. A stream of water trickles down the gutter that runs the walls’ length, linking back to the entrance fountain, creating an “endless cycle” reminiscent of life, in tandem with filling the sound of pure nature into the concrete architecture.
Bespoke door handles, skirting lights as well a bronze eternal lamps are made triangular in profile, to coincide with the shape of the memorial hall. “The perfect geometry of the equilateral triangle implies the immaculacy of life, the circulation of energy and the transcendence of dimensions,” the Chinese architect explains. “The carefully designed one-way circulation in and out of the complex ensures the privacy of each mourner; after the ceremony, the mourners can pass through the walled walkway on the other side to the exit, where before leaving, the sound of flowing water at the fountain can be heard once again,” describes Studio 10.
Name: Hall of Immortality
Location: Longshan Cemetery, Jiaozuo, Henan Province, China
Area: 93 sqm
Year of completion: 2020
Client: Xiuwu County Longshan Cemetery / Xiuwu County Xiu Xin Shang Wu Cultural Development Co., Ltd.
Architectural and Interior Design Consultant: Studio 10
Principal‐in‐charge: Shi Zhou
Design Team: Project Assistants - Feifei Chen, Jiaxiao Bao, Ming Tang; Interns - An Huang, Chunhui Mo, Xin Zheng, Hao Wu, Liangyu Shen, Yue Yu, Zhenjie Chen
Construction Drawings Consultant: Shaohui Li
Graphic Design Consultant: SURE Design
Lighting Design Consultant: Matt Lighting Design Associates