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death and the city

Team - Matthew Dubin, Ace Ren  | Fall 2016

ARCHOUTLOUD Competition | Honourable Mention

With a population of over 14 million people, Tokyo has rapidly transformed its urban environment to be one of the densest cities in the world. However, unlike most cities it has an aging population, so much so that the city is running out of room for traditional cemeteries.

With limited land, residential areas are now experiencing the puzzling phenomenon of “pocket cemeteries” a silent, yet undesirable neighbor that serves as a constant reminder of death.

Using a small plaza in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, the competition asked entrants to create a modern solution for an urban cemetery, focusing heavily on the relationship between death, tradition, technology and the bustling culture of Tokyo. The only requirement was to utilize urns as the burial method, a process that is widely accepted in Japanese tradition and can afford the creation of a “vertical cemetery”.

As a team, we wanted to create something poetic to create dialogue between the program and the city. The primary concept driving the design is the desire to temper the morbid perception of death. The project memorializes – and even celebrates – the deceased through the introduction and manipulation of light and nature beneath the city streets.

In Buddhist tradition, a mountain is a symbol of Buddha that represents strength, peace and honour. If one looks beyond the city skyline, Mt. Fuji looms in the far distance and is part of a group of volcanoes that are known as the “holy mountains”. Inspired by this natural form, the project takes on the image of these three mountains, creating a sculptural metaphor in the heart of the city that does not immediately stand out as a symbol of death.

The underground columbarium is divided into three reflection zones which are designed to provide a distinctly different user experience and interaction with nature. Collectively, the reflection zones all serve to temporarily severe the connection between the user and the city and offer a respite from reality. Both sound and sight are manipulated to focus the user’s attention on self reflection and meditation. Unlike a traditional cemetery, which may serve as a reminder of human mortality, Transcendence fully interacts with the surrounding city scape.

The columbarium utilizes a mechanized storage system that transports the individual urns to and from their storage block in the well. A network of horizontal and vertical tracks are embedded in the cast-in-place concrete and allow for visitors to locate and either retrieve or store their loved ones’ ashes.

Downtown Tokyo is not suited well for a program that emphasizes, celebrates, and manipulates the natural environment. Due to the city’s overbearing skyline, each of the three wells within the project is individually designed to capture as much natural light as possible while simultaneously retaining a clear view of the sky. The varying levels of distortion to the wells is a result of their relative depth and the varying height of adjacent buildings. Additionally, each well is designed to offer visitors a noticeably different userexperience.

Transcendence consists of three subterranean reflection zones – each emulating and consisting of an element of the Zen garden: sand (which representswater), rocks (mountains), and moss (islands). In order to achieve the necessary height for the efficient and proper storage of urns, each well had to be partially submerged beneath the plaza. Visitors enter the space via a single spiral ramp that spills out into the largest basin and have the option to experience the different reflection zones at their own leisure.

© michaelrahmatoulin 2023