Recently we were approached to design an urn for an upcoming exhibit curated by Lundgren Monuments which explores the territory of death. We were immediately fascinated by the idea, but having such little knowledge about the process of cremation our initial design concepts were quickly challenged by unknown variables, both technical and psychological.

To better understand the ways of cremation we were introduced to Forest Lawn Crematorium in West Seattle, where we toured the grounds and facilities. The original mausoleum from 1954 is a pristine example of mid-century modern architecture. It has been immaculately cared for over the years and today’s post shares a few shots of this exceptional, emotionally moving space.

The building composition is immediately striking, clean formal lines with deliberate acts of asymmetry. Walls of glass are framed between massive brick volumes, the entry is clear to find and at the same time doesn’t make a spectacle of itself. The mature landscape sits confidently in the foreground and softens up the massing of the structure.

Once inside, the clean, symmetrical geometries provide a pleasing atmosphere. Each hall terminates with a framed view, intentional to the landscape beyond. The walls are perfectly organized into grids allowing for caskets and urns to be efficiently stored while each is still respectfully given the surface to be properly recognized. Wall mounted vases break up the grid and offer color and warmth. The space is quiet, harmonious and lends well to being with your thoughts.

To individuals like ourselves, who spend most of our time thinking about design and the physical experience of the world around us, we couldn’t help but come to a strange conclusion; why is it that so many of us wait until death to surround ourselves with a harmonious, inspiring environment? There wasn’t a single architectural move or physical quality that couldn’t just as easily be attained and enjoyed during life.

The behind the scenes tour, which included the cremation oven, was equally as fascinating. Forest Lawn has been making an enormous amount of progress in evolving the industry of cremation into a process of inclusion. The facilities are warm and comforting; the cremation oven is formal and presentable. We’re big fans of transparency and clear communication in our own industry and we greatly admire the front-runners who are achieving it in their own respective realms.

We’ll be sharing our progress of the urn design in future blog posts, you can also get a sneak peak by following us on Twitter. The Architect and the Urn exhibit opens this June in Seattle, stay tuned for more details on the BUILDblog.