In cities or villages, regardless of where we live, mortality is the destiny shared by us all. When its inevitability is a given, how do we handle death? Aside from the ancient traditions and rituals, what are our alternative options in terms of commemorating and perceiving death – whether it is the passing of our beloved ones, or the end of our own journey of life? Bearing these queries in mind, we have started the design of the Memorial Hall at Longshan Cemetery and continued to seek for the answers throughout.
Longshan Cemetery is located on the barren hills west of Caipo Village. It mainly serves residents of Jiaozuo City and the rural neighborhood of Xiuwu County, Henan Province, China. The site of the Memorial Hall is located at the northwest corner of a backfilled mine area at the entrance of the main campus, and is triangular in shape; directly to the north, the plot is adjacent to the incinerating area where mourners would burn incense sticks and money as part of the traditional ritual, while to its west is the campus vehicular road as well as the main reception area. As a result, the surroundings of the site are relatively chaotic.
The memorial hall was named by the owner Hall of Immortality, because we are essentially all “mortal”. However, experiencing and witnessing death may be one of those moments in life when we get closest to Immortality – it is one when we are most intimately connected with Nature, that reaffirms through “mixing forever with the elements” our eternal interconnection with everything else instead of the “ultimate separation”.
In order to create a space where one can stay away from the sobbing, groans, the dust and smoke from the traditional burning ritual as well as the shuttle golf carts, we have enclosed the triangular plot with high walls on all three sides, leaving only a narrow slit on the south end; the space was meant to be a quiet and introverted place for contemplation – focusing on emotions, senses and the fundamental elements of nature that are presented in the space: light, water, soil, sky, clouds, rocks and trees- These are not only the end, but also the starting point of life, an infinite cycle.
Mourners would wash their hands at the fountain upon entry, then head to the perimeter walkway enclosed by high walls. Through the narrow gap between the eaves of the dark entrance porch with low ceiling height and the perimeter wall, a strip of sky and a few cypresses are revealed. You almost do not feel the presence of the incinerating area at the other side of the wall; while waiting to enter the main venue, one can sit on the benches under the porch quietly and get a sense of the changing clouds, light and shadow through that gap.
Entering the main hall, light would gradually change from dark to bright, pouring down from the main skylights above the marble Urn Altar at the far end as well as from the narrow slots on the sides. A stream of water tickling down the gutter along the wall is connected to the fountain at the entrance, forming an endless cycle while introducing the gurgling sound of nature into the space.
Custom-made bronze Eternal Lamp, door handles and skirting lights are all triangular in profile, which coincides with the shape of building plan; the perfect geometry of the equilateral triangle implies the immaculacy of life, the circulation of energy and the transcendence of dimensions.
The carefully designed one-way circulation in and out of the complex ensures the privacy of each mourner; after the ceremony, the mourners can pass through the walled walkway on the other side to the exit, where before leaving, the sound of flowing water at the fountain can be heard once again.