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Environment / Climate change

High-rise cemeteries are now a thing

Not to be morbid about it, but there are currently around 100 billion dead people on this planet. In our ever-denser settlements, we’re struggling to find space to house the swelling hordes of the living, let alone the dead. Researchers have found that, in the US alone, land the size of Las Vegas will be needed to bury those who’ll die between 2020 and 2042.

So architects and cemetery experts (yes, that is a job) have come up with a solution: graves in the sky.

Asia is currently ahead of the pack on this one. In many Asian cultures, there’s already a tradition of burying the dead in multi-storey pagodas. That seems to have influenced the design of the high-rise cemetery in Tainan, Taiwan. It goes by the ironic name of the Lung Yen Life Service:

Image: Highrise.

A niche in the wall costs around $1,000 (more, if you want a specific prime spot near your relatives). Urns of the deceased’s ashes and a photo are kept behind a small circular window.

Image: Highrise.

Currently, the tallest sky cemetery is the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica III, a 32 storey highrise in Santos, Brazil:

Image: Memoril Necrópole Ecumênica III.

In case you get bored of all the graves, the building also contains a restaurant, a chapel, a lagoon (?!) and a peacock garden (apparently, it’s become quite the tourist attraction). Grave spots in the tower are in demand, perhaps because, as this article in the Hindustan Times notes, those buried in the top floor would be “108 metres closer to heaven than a typical underground grave”.

Lately, futuristic plans for even taller skyscraper cemeteries have also emerged. Last year, Martin McSherry, a student in Oslo presented this concept for this virtual cemetery, in which slots in the structure would gradually be filled with coffins, as a solution to Norway’s cemetery-space problem:

Image: Martin McSherry.

The country’s been struggling against a shortage of space since its previous solution, recycling graves after two years, stopped working, for the slightly gruesome reason that new plastic burial wrapping prevented bodies from decomposing fast enough.

McSherry’s suggestion was controversial, however, not least because the proposed tower would have been the city’s tallest building. The dead may outnumber the living, but letting them remind us of their existence by towering over the city at all times may be a bit much. There are currently no plans to put the designs into practice.

The Moksha tower, currently under construction in Mumbai, may be the most futuristic of the lot. It’ll be the world’s tallest cemetery, and will feature gardens in both the structure’s internal and external walls.

Image:Fu & Lin.

Yalin Fu and Ihsuan Lin, the tower’s designers, took into account Mumbai’s four major religions in their designs. As a result, the tower will allow for garden burials, cremations, river burials and a “tower of silence”, where bodies are exposed to weather and scavenging birds (part of Parsi Zoroastrian burial rites).

Even with the extra space offered by vertical cemeteries, however, the tower’s designers are adamant that bodies will only reside there for 5-10 years, as they made clear in a statement accompanying their designs. “Mumbai’s density leaves little room for the living, let alone for the dead.”
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