The Architecture Of Death

By James Taylor-Foster

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At the 2014 Venice Biennale, away from the concentrated activity of the Arsenale and Giardini, was Death in Venice: one of the few independent projects to take root that year. The exhibition was curated by and Ania Molenda, who worked alongside LUST graphic designers. It saw the hospitals, cemeteries, crematoria and hospices of London interactively mapped creating, as Gian Luca Amadei put it, an overview of the capital’s “micro-networks of death.” Yet it also revealed a larger message: that architecture related to death and dying appears to no longer be important to the development of architecture as a discipline.

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In late 2014 Killing, a Rotterdam-based British architect, was selected to become a Fellow and was given the opportunity to speak about the research behind the project at a conference in Rio de Janeiro. Her five minute talk follows a similar track to the exhibition, tackling the ‘architecture of death’ – a relatively neglected aspect of the architectural discourse. She asserts how “hospitals, funeral chapels, crematoria and cemeteries once used to set an example that would be followed,” and how “these forms [once] would set trends and define values for architecture more widely. Today, this once strong position seems to have faded away completely, despite the fact that the need for design related to death and dying is greater than ever before.”

With average life spans increasing, and with the rise of degenerative diseases, the period of time in which we deal with end-of-life processes has extended and with it, our exposure to the architecture of hospitals, hospices, care and nursing homes, as well as crematoria and cemeteries.

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The exhibition communicated the evolving landscape of death in modern Britain by examining the changes that took place over the preceding century. It took these changes as a point of departure in order “to reflect on the current shape of death and the architecture which offers space for it.”

In her talk for TED she notes how fluorescent lights, endless corridors, and rows of uncomfortable chairs are a relatively new phenomenon. Although “hospital architecture has earned its bad reputation,” her talk demonstrates that it wasn’t always like this. There are cases in architectural history of hospitals which are light, open and friendly – Brunelleschi’s Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence being a key example.

Following its success in Venice, there are now plans for the exhibition to tour the UK and The Netherlands.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Read a transcript of Alison Killing’s TED talk, There’s a better way to die, and architecture can help, here. You can also read an interview with her here.

The curation and exhibition concept originates with Alison Killing and Ania Molenda, and the design and interactive installations were put together by LUST. Exhibition production support came from AB Venice. The project has made possible by Abigail Batchelor (UK), Rachel Engler (US) and Magnus Weightman (UK/NL); as well as Sabina Arbouw, Kuno Mayr and Harald van der Sluys Veer. The exhibition was funded by a grant from the Creative Industries Fund NL and support from EGM Architects, Printer pro and the Death in Venice Kickstarter campaign.

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