Design Matters

In our office we have often said that master planned communities and cemeteries are the same. The differences are cemeteries are generally smaller and the residents are much quieter at night. All kidding aside, they are very much alike

Within a master planned community you develop neighborhoods that vary in size and grandeur. You may have upscale neighborhoods with estates and mansions or more main stream neighborhoods with standard sized lots that have typical suburban homes. You may also have neighborhoods with small homes on small lots or a complex of townhomes and condos in a compact development. The builder and design team strive to create a mix of housing types to accommodate the different needs of people. They weave this housing mix in with natural features like streams, hills, and open space and take advantage of scenic views. The result is a beautiful livable community that is highly desired. They develop value through design.

Cemetery planning and design are alike. The cemetery consists of a variety of burial types similar to neighborhoods and often called gardens. The owner and cemetery planning team may develop high end areas with family mausoleums, private estate gardens and bench estates or more main stream gardens with typical lawn burials. They may also develop smaller gardens for cremation burials with columbaria, ossuaries, cremation niches and individual and companion markers. The cemetery planning team takes advantage of natural features such as streams, mature trees, boulder outcrops, high points, and areas scenic vistas by placing various burials near and around these features.

Why do this? To create a beautiful and calming place for reflection and memorialization. Good analysis and design will weave natural and manmade elements into a calming memorial park that allows people to reflect and remember their loved ones. People desire well made places such as these and are willing to pay a premium for the best locations with these memorial parks. Good design will add value to the project.

Planning and designing a cemetery in whole or in part requires a good design process beginning with due diligence and ending with solid construction drawings. Prior to any actual design work, the owner and design team need to perform pre-design tasks such as analysis and programming. First develop a program statement based on sales trends, emerging trends, community demographics, cemetery needs, maintenance and the desired outcome of the project. The program statement should include park amenities such as burial types and quantities, mausoleums, cremation needs, chapels, office buildings, pavilions, parking, vehicular and pedestrian circulation, main entrances, and maintenance yards. Next, understand the site with regards to topography, drainage, vegetation, climate, utilities, zoning, adjacent land uses and other aspects of the site. A summary analysis map should be synthesized from the above data to develop an exhibit of the constraints and opportunities.

From programming and analysis, the cemeteries master plan can begin to take form. The various program elements are located on the site map. These elements are placed in areas amenable to development and related to each other based on functional relationships. Areas with constraints to development may be avoided. There may be a number of alternative concepts developed for the owner to review and ultimately select for a final design.  Theming and layout are refined and the design begins to take a solid form.  Good design now becomes a key in the ultimate success of the cemetery.

What makes good design? Many things do. As the old adage states, “Beauty is in the eye of the holder.” Most people know good design when they see it, but they may not be able to fully articulate what makes a place special and a design good. Some elements that make a place special include the visual qualities both within and outside of the park. How does the park take advantage of the views to elements outside of its boundaries such as mountains, rivers, or valleys? What visual axes exist within the park? Are there visual terminuses such as mausoleums and water features at the ends of these axes?

This concept of visual axes and terminuses can be related to the Nation Mall in Washington D.C., a monumental visual axis. At one end of the mall sits the Lincoln Memorial and at the other is the United States Capital. In between is the Washington monument and World War II memorial. The sides of the mall are enclosed by buildings and bosques of trees defining an outdoor room on the grandest of scales. The monuments lead the eye from one end of the mall to the other. They have significance both visually and emotionally as symbols of our country.

The same can be applied to the cemetery. Scenic vistas within the park may have visual terminuses of a family mausoleum at one end and a funeral chapel at the other. In between the end terminuses may sit an intermediate terminus in the form of a cremation garden with water features and a pavilion. The whole axis may be flanked by large evergreen and deciduous trees defining the outdoor room. The eye is drawn from one point of the cemetery to another. It encourages a person to look and explore.

The various design elements such as cremation and estate gardens within the cemetery need good design, rich materials, pleasant textures, and water. These elements provide patterns and sound that add to the overall feel of the memorial park. These gardens also need to be well planted with trees, shrubs, and ground covers. Trees provide shade, comfort, and protection to patrons. Pedestrian and vehicular circulation provides access from garden to garden. Gardens and burials can be strategically placed near small streams, boulders, and on high places for scenic views. Estate and cremation gardens with pavilions and water features lend their aesthetics to adjacent lawn burials. It adds visual impact to these burial spaces. They are not only special as memorials of loved ones but are also special due to their beauty and atmosphere.

Good design adds value. Those burial plots near scenic and beautiful spaces and features command premiums over a standard lawn burial in the middle of a turf area or next to a road. They may take advantage of views or proximity to park features. Good design increase revenues. For instance, at Valley of the Sun Memorial Park in Chandler, Arizona, the cemetery was able to sell one of the new private estates in the cremation garden prior to completion of construction based on the master plan and an artist’s rendering of the garden. The sale paid for 1/5th of the cost of construction before funds for construction were completely expended. They began to see a return on their investment almost immediately.

The master planned community and the cemetery are works of man with similar aspects. Laid out correctly, they become valuable assets to the community and special places to the individual. They become endearing and enduring places close to our hearts and part of the fabric of our society.

1 thought on “Cemetery Planning and Design”

  1. Jean claude EALE

    Currently my wife and I are marketing the coffins. Shortly after completing the studies and with the agreement of the bank, we are going to start the construction of a coffin production unit. At the same time, we are planning the development of a new cemetery. We wish to know if we could benefit from your services for the development of a landscaped cemetery and under what conditions. We are based in Africa

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *