Funeral homes can be depressing spaces–and not just because of their function. Many of these buildings, of which there are 19,322 in the U.S. alone, are grey, windowless spaces that look like cheap hotel lobbies. The Dutch architectural firm HofmanDujardin, on the other hand, thinks funeral homes and mortuary spaces be uplifting spaces of love, which is why it recently proposed a design that better reflects the way we say goodbye.
Founded in 1999, HofmanDujardin’s mission as a firm is to help people to work well and feel good. “In general, all designs we make are human-centered,” assistant architect Willem Wopereis says over email. “Our design philosophy–which we call ‘shaping intuition’–is based on intuitive, natural feelings of human beings.” The firm’s conceptual design for a funeral space was spurred by the loss of a dear friend of the studio’s partners, Michiel Hofman and Barbara Dujardin. The experience made the architects “reflect upon the way we say goodbye and rethink what a suitable building would look like,” Wopereis explains, “asking themselves how sad moments in our lives can be beautiful at the same time.”
The architects imagined an alternative to the current state of funeral home design, creating a conceptual building organized around three main spaces. The first is called the “Wall of Memories,” which features a floor to ceiling video wall that can be programmed to reflect “the essence” of the deceased. Attendees can send photographs, videos, and digital memories of their loved one to the wall, either before the day of the wake or in real time during the event. The space becomes a collage of images–one last embrace from family and friends, a collective moment to relive his or her life. People can also download the collective memory as a video file, taking a digital memento with them. It’s a reflection of the way digital culture is changing the way we say goodbye; after all, more and more people are making arrangements to take care of their digital lives when they are gone.
The second room is the epicenter of the building, where the coffin is and the actual ceremony takes place. After passing through the Wall of Memories, attendees move into this triangular space, which the architects say “creates intimacy in both small and bigger groups [thanks to] the two curved walls and the ceiling bend inwards to define a passage as the center for the coffin.” The coffin is framed by a long panoramic window that opens to the natural surroundings. “The shape implies a flow back towards nature, closing the circle of life,” HofmanDujardin says. When the ceremony is done, attendees pass into a third room clad in timber, which serves as an event space with tables and serving areas that facilitate the celebration of the life of the person who passed away.
The funeral services industry is a $14.2 billion business in the U.S., and HofmanDujardin hopes that its design could change the way it approaches spaces of mourning. “Hopefully the funeral industry will see this and will reflect upon what their facilities could be like,” Wopereis says. So far, the reaction from people all over the world to the design has been intense and varied; one person told the architects that their design moved her to tears–another wondered “if his family and friends would appreciate such an ‘Instagram-worthy’ send-off.”
Barring a space funeral, I would much prefer being booted off this planet in this stunning setting than in a funeral home that looks like the lobby of a Best Western. In fact, with its beautiful design and connection to nature, I wouldn’t mind living in it.