Momento mori: Remember your death

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Patel, Alisha
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Master of Architecture (Professional)
Unitec Institute of Technology
Potangaroa, Regan
Masters Thesis
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
cemetery architecture
pervasive computing
ANZSRC Field of Research Code (2020)
Patel, A. (2009). Momento mori: Remember your death. An explanatory document submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Architecture (Professional), Unitec New Zealand.
“How can Cemetery Architecture evolve as a building type, to reconnect mourners to the deceased and/or to their feelings?” “Can pervasive computing be integrated into the architecture of cemetery buildings to provide a more comforting and reflective space for funerary service experiences?” It seems there is a plea to reintegrate places of the dead back into modern society, establishing social and physical geographies that appear to have been lost. As Ken Worpole states, “Hi-tech architecture has created many new kinds of buildings and civil engineering wonders in the modern city, but it has yet to create anything original associated with the abiding cycle of human loss, fortitude and renewal”(1). There is a real danger of creating modern cities without memory - cities in denial of death and humanity. “Human life is interactive life, in which architecture has long set the stage”(2). As the technological craze continues to rapidly invade our lives, digital devices that are worn, carried, and embedded into our physical conditions, have fundamentally altered the way in which people interact. In an era saturated with pervasive computing, we need to think about how humans and devices are able to co-exist. As the great Louis Kahn once proclaimed, “Spaces that serve, absorb their era’s new technologies, and they are reconfigured but not replaced by these…” (3) -Louis Kahn These ubiquitous devices - whether they are sensors receiving input from the real world, or actuators, output devices that transform input into motion – they provide architecture with an opportunity to evolve from its traditionally static stature, to something more responsive to its environment. The modernist movement saw architects disassociate buildings from the earth. Emphasis was put on doing away with the darkness below, and to create an international style that was not bound to earth, but could quite easily sit anywhere. “Pilotis, walls of seemingly frameless plate glass, were intended to lighten a buildings contact with the ground”(4). Could this be a reason why architecture appears to have turned its back on buildings of the dead? It seems, traditional cemetery buildings place great importance on its alliance with ‘place’ and grounding. The modern movement’s rejection of this relationship has left the architecture of cemetery buildings largely disconnected from progressive ways of thinking, and essentially, the treatment of its spaces. At present, they are typically described as being places of banality and “poorly designed”(5). The aim of the project is to design new cemetery buildings for an existing burial site in the North Shore City region, and to investigate whether pervasive computing can be successfully utilized to create comforting and reflective spaces. Contrary to pervasive computings ‘dynamic’ qualities, a cemetery provides an antagonistic agenda – that of pausing and reflecting. It is these opposing ideas that have the potential to inject light, space and optimism back into the architecture of the dead, all of which could be possible through the use of ubiquitous devices and treatment of the building skin. 1. Ken Worpole, Last Landscapes : The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West (London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2003), 30 2. Malcolm McCullough, Digital Ground : Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2004), 8 3. Ibid., 27 4. Edwin Heathcote, Monument Builders (West Sussex: Academy Editions, 1999), 12 5. Worpole, Last Landscapes, 184
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