Our fear and discomfort with death have left crematoriums with segregated, cold and depressing spaces in urban context so far. To change such underperforming hindu crematorium into a vital place at Amalsad town in India, d6thD design studio had been commissioned by a private trust. Architect came up with the idea to create a place not limited to fulfil the cremation rituals but to make much needed valuable public space for daily use in the urban setting.
The Site and entry
2 acre site has adjoining roads on north and west side, small river on south side and few residences on the east side. Site was having sloppy terrain of 5mt going down from north to south-west. Architect strategically transformed half of the contoured site into two major levels- upper level for public space and lower level for cremation space by cut and fills method. Both levels are connected with the ramp considered as ceremonial path.
Upon arrival at entrance plaza from northern road, visitors are persuaded to slow down with invisible building and offered multiple paths. However, partly visible chimney and golden trident sparks the curiosity. A driveway ramp on west side leads down to parking area and visitors can return back to plaza shortly by using a staircase connecting the both.
Upper level is fully landscaped with various spiritual gardens in acknowledging the fact that in Indian context, society evolve around religion and such spaces often become more than just a place of devotion. Less conventionally, these spaces cater to all ages and genders regardless of the part of crematorium complex; upper level becomes a significant public space for socio-cultural engagement
Nandivan and Sitavan on lower west while children play area and Vrindavan on Upper East Side of entrance plaza help to disperse the public mass. Snake shaped wavy pathway leading down to an aniconic shivlinga on extreme east provide buffer between cremation courts and adjoining residential units. All these spaces designed for the daily uses by locals are carefully blended with landscape on various levels honor the contoured site condition.
5mt wide and 60mt long ramp (Muktimarg) peculiarly carved out of contoured Public Park, takes mourners down from entrance plaza to hidden crematorium. As one goes down gradually, retaining walls create shaft effect and solely focus funeral atmosphere. At the beginning of ramp, retaining walls hold murals of different iconic structures of the local town (school, college, temple, market, railway station etc) as the reminiscence of departed. Small idols of various Hindu saints and their quotes; displayed in retaining wall niches create pious atmosphere to calm the relatives of deceased.
In the middle of ramp, bridge connecting two gardens on top with hanging creepers provides tranquility. Continues planters on the top edge of retaining walls soften the visual impact and act as security fence for the gardens.
Further curvilinear ramp surprisingly reveal grand lord Shiva sculpture; which can’t be seen from entry level. According to Hinduism, Meditating Shiva in a crematorium speaks of aloofness from materialism and the constant understanding that one has to die and be reduced to ashes. It recognizes the world and encapsulates it in “the philosophy of creation, sustenance and destruction- symbolized by Trishula. To accentuate this, Lord Shiva is visually framed with elevated stone walls and the slab having golden trident at the end of ramp.
This whole journey of ramp encourages the gradual transition from external environment to internal intimacy, from outer noise to inner silence and from dance of creation to the dust of death.
Sunken courts at lower level allow controlled relationship with exterior and thus provide environments for reflection and remembrance. Hexagonal shaped two cremation pyre are arranged in a symmetrical pattern separated by ramp gives the possibility of two funerals at the same time with the sense of privacy.
Admin office, prayer hall and wood storage building are buried such that their roof top becomes extension of public garden and maintain minimal visual impact. These subterranean facilities are accessible from wide corridors opening to cremation courts. These semi open spaces become waiting area where relatives assemble for a shared sense of loss during cremation process. Staircases from waiting area become direct exit to landscaped garden on upper level avoid embarrassing encounters between two different families.
Use of locally available random rubble stones and terracotta roofing tiles are not only instilling muted environment but also cost effective and time tested.
The project encourages visitors to explore the different spaces and interpret its purpose through their own experiences and needs. By realizing death as a motivating element to focus the meaning of life on both a personal and social level; this unique crematorium- “Udan” becomes an important public space for the town as well as the surrounding villages.