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Dead in the Water: A Floating Cemetery for Hong Kong

A concept building gives a whole new meaning to burial at sea.

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A concept building in Hong Kong by the designer Tin Shun But gives a whole new
meaning to burial at sea. Instead of tossing ashes into the great blue
yonder, you can stow them on a floating columbarium moored to the main land. Think of it as a cruise ship, of sorts, but for permanent vacationers.

It sounds absurd, until you realize how difficult it is to find a place in Hong
Kong to spend eternity. In a city that packs more than 7 million
residents into less than 500 square miles, burial grounds are in hot
demand, with private cemetery spaces going for $280,000HKD (about $36,000 USD) and families waiting up to 56 months for a reused plot in a public burial site, according to Bloomberg.
Demand far outstrips supply, and as a result, the vast majority of bodes are cremated. The city expects some 400,000 new urns in the
next decade.

Just finding space for all those ashes is geographically fraught. Hong
Kong is firmly rooted in Buddhist traditions, and showing dead
ancestors proper respect is a powerful cultural imperative — that
includes grade-A resting places. (Views of other graveyards, bad; views
of nature, good.) Apparently, a debate is raging over whether to build
the city a multi-story columbarium or develop the land for mortal endeavors.

The problem is hardly confined to Hong
Kong. From New York to
Singapore, cemeteries are filling to the brim, forcing regions to adopt
curious burial rituals: exhumations, grave-sharing, etc. In eco-conscious Sweden, it’s now legal to freeze bodies in liquid nitrogen,
then shatter them. (This is supposedly gentler on the environment than
burning bodies, if somewhat disturbing to family members.)

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Hong Kong has considered other options. Last year, as Bloomberg reported, city officials dropped by a colombarium
outside Tokyo where families swipe a smart card to access ashes from an
underground vault, turning the somber act of remembrance into something
like an ATM withdrawal. Visitors can bring flowers and tchotchkes if
they want, but they have to remove them as soon as they leave. And if
they’re too lazy to make the trip, they can always pray in front of an
image of the urn online.

So Tin Shun But’s idea is pretty damned smart. From the harbor, visitors pull up to the columbarium
by boat, then set the ashes in a designated niche or sprinkle them
overboard into the murky depths. Seascape at every turn provides a
picturesque environment in which to pay respects and a fitting cosmic
tribute to those who’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. The harborside
location doesn’t get in the way of urban development plans.

We
imagine some people might balk at the impermanence of it all. What’s to
say a storm doesn’t hurl a monster wave on deck, washing dear granny
into the sea? It’s possible. Maybe even probable. But burial grounds
themselves are subject to the vagaries of weather, vandalism, and time.
Just look to the tombs of ancient Egypt, or even of modern New Orleans.
Hardly anyone rests in peace forever.

[Check out more pics at Arch Daily]

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About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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