“A cremation is a special moment for everyone, a confrontation with the afterlife, so it’s a special task to create a suitable space for this moment” – Vincent Panhuysen; Siesegem founder.
Buried to rot or burnt to ash. Two options most people consider. Dirt or air. Surrounded by dirt or spread throughout the air. Cremation is on the rise. People would rather be spread in a beautiful place, travelling through the air and handed back to the Earth than lie in a closed coffin in the ground to be dug up and thrown away in years to come.
Crematoriums. A facility to burn. A building to be forgotten and hidden away. Yet some are places to be remembered. Some are buildings for “gathering, enjoying a meal and reconnecting with relatives and friends” (Hernández, 2018). Siesegem Crematorium, Belgium is a building that feels natural, exudes peace and calmness and whose “client’s significant experience and dialogue were crucial to the project” (Hernández, 2018).
Siesegem does more than just satisfy “technical and functional requirements” (KAAN, 2018). It creates a safe space. A space and environment that allows death to be remembered and witnessed. KAAN Architects chose to “disclose rather than hide the cremation process” (Hernández, 2018) making the technical aspects of cremation apart of the fundamental design. In doing so the building creates a conversation about dying, about what happens to us once we die. It does not hide the pain and the technicalities of death; it shows them to us in a calming and safe way.
Image One – View looking out onto the exterior site from the long main corridor
Image Two – Interior space showcasing the daylight patterns
Image Three – the back of an assembly hall with all its connected colours and hues
(Bossi & van Damme, 2018)
Concrete, marble, oak parquet floor, and soft yellow leather. All materials chosen specifically to contribute to a “sense of tranquillity and comfort” (KAAN, 2018) with these interior spaces becoming “imbued with calm and restraint” (KAAN, 2018). The spaces are vast, double height, geometrically simple and similar in colour and hue. The materials chosen all work together to “instil calmness” (KAAN, 2018). When paired with the large glazed windows users witness the link of “nature to daylight” which “offers a counterweight to the intensity and spirituality experienced by the bereaved” inside (Hernández, 2018). The windows allow natural light in, warming the spaces, warming the cold and in a sense warming your heart. Death evokes cold. During a time of sacred peace and remembrance, the spaces inside are ones of dignity and intimacy (Hernández, 2018) and light and warmth.
Image Four – An exterior view of the cremation equipment used.
Image Five – An interior view of the sandy yellow chimney stretching up through the roof space.
(Bossi & van Damme, 2018)
The soft sandy yellow of the furniture in the two assembly rooms is mirrored and echoed by the ovens, equipment, and the chimney which “stretches up through the glazed opening in the roof” (Hernández, 2018). This echo creates a unity within the spaces, connecting the technical with the serenity. It unifies the links of death; the hidden and the shown. Users can witness the burning and be a part of the whole process for death is not just the ceremony at the end; it is a sequence of events that need to be acknowledged. The building acknowledges those events and in doing so acts as one space, not hiding anything behind closed doors. It connects the two aspects of cremation. It speaks from experience.
“At the heart of almost every design is the desire to create an atmosphere of calm and peace, although this can be approached in a variety of ways” (Hill, 2020). Every experience is different. Every death is different. Siesegem Crematorium succeeds in pushing through ideas and notions of death. The client’s dialogue and experience are written into the architecture. This crematorium is a solution. It works here. It may not work everywhere but it has the power to change thoughts and ideas surrounding death just like all architecture for “the rituals that surround death are too emotional and important to be relegated to buildings that are soulless, functional and drab” (Hill, 2020).
Doorne, Chelsea. 2017. “Designing for Dying.” The Red and Black Architect, 4 December, 2017. http://www.theredandblackarchitect.com/designing-for-dying/
Hernández, Diego. 2018. “Crematorium Siesegem / KAAN Architecten.” Archdaily, 2018. https://www.archdaily.com/905757/crematorium-siesegem-kaan-architecten
Hill, Kay. 2020. “Funerary Architecture Designing for Grief.” Design Curial, 24 March, 2020. http://www.designcurial.com/news/funerary-architecture-designing-for-grief-7816430
KAAN Architects. 2018. “Crematorium Siesegem.” Issuu, 22 November, 2018. https://issuu.com/kaanarchitecten/docs/kaan_crematorium
Nicholls, Dominic. 2017. “Death by Design.” The Economist 1843, June/July, 2017. https://www.1843magazine.com/design/death-by-design
Bossi, Simone & van Damme, Sebastian. 2018. “Crematorium Siesegem / KAAN Architecten.” Archdaily, 2018. https://www.archdaily.com/905757/crematorium-siesegem-kaan-architecten