In a world where funeral options include fusing your loved ones’ remains into a diamond or returning them to the earth in an artisanal eco-casket, opting for a traditional burial can seem downright passé. Maybe that’s why Swedish designer Johan Kauppi’s take on the simple gravestone feels like a breath of fresh air. (And not just because it incorporates carbon-sequestering trees into the design.)
Kauppi took inspiration from the burial traditions of Scandinavia’s indigenous Sami people, creating a modern version of what the Sami call a luohkka: “small mountain with trees.” The tasteful magnetite slab is small and light enough for loved ones to place anywhere they like without professional help. The circular cutout provides space to plant a tree or flower in remembrance (or simply place candles or mementos). “So often, headstones are literally dead [in their design],” says Kauppi. “I wanted to create something that encourages you to remember life.”
The luohkka’s ancient inspiration also fits with a very modern desire: to memorialize loved ones while also respecting the environment. Planting a new tree within the open circle has a small but clear environmental impact. Kauppi also sources the magnetite itself from local Swedish mines, which produce it as a waste product. “This uses less energy than shipping in rock from far away,” he explains.
But what happens when a thick tree trunk tries in vain to fit through the luohkka’s tiny aperture–won’t that stifle the very growth Kauppi’s design is supposed to foster? “I get this question all the time, and it does raise interesting questions,” he says. “I’m pretty sure the luokkha won’t crack. My hope is that the tree will just raise it off the ground as it grows, which would be quite beautiful.”