Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Silent Spaces

 By Ar. Sinora Penkar

With a population of over a billion people and a country steeped in culture and tradition, India needs to build for her people clean, tranquil and private spaces where they can complete the last rites of their loved ones.  Ar. Sinora Penkar’s winning design for a funerary…

The last farewells to the dearly departed should ideally be a deeply spiritual journey for the mourners. Funerary Architecture thus has to make sure that crematoriums and cemeteries are places that provide solace to the distraught, irrespective of their religion.

Concept - Man’s visual system is receptive to patterns.

The architectural challenge that came via a recent design competition for a Multi-Faith Funerary Centre granted me the opportunity to research and highlight the inadequacy of contemporary crematoriums and emphasize the need for alternative methods of Cremation and Burial; to mitigate the prevailing environmental pollution and promote integral sustainability issues within this realm.

Funerary Processes

Responding to the brief that the funerary must represent the various religions of our country and our culture and traditions and yet have a definite identity; and that any town or city within the country should be able to replicate it easily and efficiently and yet retain its sense of place; our design is based on the symbol of the Eight-Point Star - a universal symbol in many faiths.

Concept site plan - has a strong axis, passing through the entrance gateway, through the waterfall feature, and the central  court ending with the Hindu module wall, directly sitting onto the axis.

Site Plan -  Each module is an enclosed space, one side overlooking the landscaped surroundings

Using the Eight-Point Star as the common architectural element, we chose simple modular planning, allowing flexibility in orientation, grouping and placement that can be replicated easily.  Modules of different faiths are placed around a strong nodal axis with a contemplation space simulating the ancient step-well or kund around it.   This constitutes a space where one comes to reflect and hopefully purify & calm oneself.

Design Approach: Eight-Point Star - A secular concept, open to all, irrespective of religious beliefs.

Man’s visual system is receptive to patterns. The Eight-Point Star appears in cultures around the world and carries various meanings associated with each culture that utilizes it. Our project being "Multi-Faith", different religious modules adapt to this symbol to ensure that although the faiths are amalgamated into one central Eight -Point Star core, each faith has the prerogative of performing the funeral rites according to their respective cultural identity.

Therefore, discrete, scalable, reusable modules consisting of isolated, self-contained functional elements constitute the modules for the three major faiths, placed around a central court. What typifies these flexible modules is their ease of adaptation and characteristic open floor plans and typology-free design.

Hindu Module – contains the furnace chamber enclosed by solid walls, secluding the family from the others. It also contains a ritual table viewed by the attendees / mourners from the surrounding built-in seats.

Christian Module – Placed on the East side of the axis, this module comprises the funeral hall, administration office, separate rooms for Protestant minister and Catholic priest, rooms for keeping wreaths and spill over spaces for remembrance walls/gardens.

Muslim Module – is placed on one side of the axis with its Mosque facing west. A Mosque, waiting areas with ablution facility (where people wash their hands and face for their rituals) are part of this module. It also has the platform on which the wooden casket is placed while praying, before taking it for burial.

The design is more an experience than a process and therefore, landscape has been used to create a deep spiritual journey for mourners.

Entrance Screen Wall - has narrow slit openings with Verses from Koran, Bible & Shlokas from Vedas engraved in stone cladding. Nothing of inside is visible due to the screen wall & the waterfall feature in front

Contemplation Space

Since the burial process is defined by biomass and solar cremation and a green burial process called Promession, the remains return to the loam in the ground in 6-12 months, necessitating only one plot (a 3rd of the traditional plot size) to be sustainably used in the family for generations to come - resulting in a true ‘Family Tree’

Green Burial - Designed as an alternative to complement the traditional cremation & burial options 

Remains are returned in a form that gives life, (i.e. one can plant a flower or tree with the remains) and in doing so complete the ‘Circle of Life’ preferred by many religions.

The project is still hypothetical with an ‘awarded’ status; I am hoping to receive the go-ahead for its execution and realization. 


  1. Amazing design. very well done.

  2. Unique requirements.Read through the project description to see how you handled it and designed the project. Very well thought of design concept.
    Posted by nirmala srihari on LinkedIn Group: Indian Architects and Interior Designers in response to IAnD's discussion thread: “Will technology be able to substitute customs?”

    1. Thanks ...the subject itself was so unique..

  3. Thank you for sharing this. It is really good idea, designed with sensitivity for everyone...
    Posted by Tatjana Jovanovic on LinkedIn Group: Design & Art Resource in response to IAnD's discussion thread: “Will technology be able to substitute customs?”

  4. Great concept for India's polyglot culture. The main challenge which has always faced final resting spaces still remains unanswered. With burgeoning growth of the worlds population, cemeteries are ever expanding their footprint. Cremation seems to be the only pratical solution so far. Governments in partnership with religious leaders will need to sit down and look at ways to tackle this land use issue in a practical and moral way. There will be many heated debates and backlash around this as centuries old beliefs and customs which have been a way of life for some cultures might have to be revisited and revised. Better we discuss this sooner then later...
    Posted by Anup Magan on Linkedin Group: London Architecture Network in response to IAnD's discussion thread: “Will technology be able to substitute customs?”

  5. Found your funerary project very interesting - great work!

    Here is a link to our project - a multifaith prayer and relax space - ina shopping centre here in London next to the Olympic site - let me know what you think dW

    Posted by David Walker

    1. Thanks. looks interesting...can i have more details??

  6. This is a very sensitive and universal design concept and one that can be adapted within many countries and nations around the world.
    Posted by Margaret Ann Matich-Kaney on LinkedIn Group: Design & Art Resource in response to IAnD's discussion thread: “Will technology be able to substitute customs?”

  7. Looks interesting indeed. We designed a multi faith prayer space as a collaboration between Jewish, Christian and Muslim architects, called FridaySaturdaySunday. These things will be always at the fringes of acceptability by more liberal minded types. Unfortunately religion attracts zealots!
    The fundamental of cremation versus burial is key. I might add that cremation is an anathema to orthodox jews and engenders significant cultural reaction (Auschwitz etc), although reform jews allow it.
    Very interesting.
    Posted by daniel leon on Linkedin Group: London Architecture Network in response to IAnD's discussion thread: “Will technology be able to substitute customs?”

    1. i am Jewish too.and I agree with you that acceptability of a liberal religious thought attracts zealots.. but someone might be able to change the trend.
      can i see your project- FridaySaturdaySunday?? sounds interesting.

  8. Having over a decade exclusive as a cemetery architect, i found this as an interesting idea for academic purposes, but i am curious as to how successful it would actually be for public consumption. For example, I was of the understanding that the Muslim tradition would not allow for the disposal process which you describe (body must be laid on its right side, etc. I have also found that many faiths do not desire such close proximity with their final disposition areas...at least not a perceptible proximity. Do you happen to have a link to the results of this competition?

  9. Thank you for sharing. Quite a unique concept and I think you've done justice to all faiths. I do hope the project takes shape, soon. Wishing you all the best.


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