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This Minnesota Mausoleum Celebrates Light After Death

The words “final resting place” can conjure up some seriously dreary thoughts. In the past, this permanence of these locales was conveyed via heavy, weighty constructions, but these often fail to capture the beautiful lightness of ceasing to be. In Minnesota’s Lakewood Cemetery, Joan Soranno and her husband and partner John Cook, both of HGA Architects and Engineers, designed the Garden Mausoleum to celebrate the delicate balance between earth-bound and ethereal aspects of death, as experienced by those who are still amongst the living. “This is, essentially, sacred ground,” Soranno tells Co.Design. “The architecture needed to express that.”

Lakewood’s lawn-plan sprawls over 250 verdant acres, dotted with monuments in a range of styles erected over its rich 141-year history. Careful consideration of these unique surroundings was top of mind for Soranno and Cook, who wanted to ensure the new building represented “contemporary expression without being aesthetically provocative.” They sought inspiration everywhere from Père-Lachaise in Paris to Skogskyrkogården in Stockholm, studying the built environment in these contexts as well as on-site at Lakewood itself. And so, tucked into a hillside adjacent to a Byzantine-type memorial chapel and 1960s-era reflecting pool, the Garden Mausoleum invites visitors to mourn and remember loved ones in a bright, sun-filled setting.

“So much architecture today is designed to be temporary–perhaps last a generation or two.” Soranno explains. “Everything about the Mausoleum reflects longevity, from the poured-in-place concrete structural frame to the stonework and mosaic-tile detailing.” Traditional funerary materials like marble, granite, and bronze were used throughout, while Carrier Mausoleum Construction oversaw the plans for crypt rooms to ensure proper ventilation and drainage.

The intimate connection to nature was essential to elevate the experience from somber to transcendent. “Wherever you go in the mausoleum, you are connected to the landscape and daylight,” Soranno says.

[All images by Paul Crosby Photography]

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