Archive for the ‘Cemeteries’ Category

Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

In Cemeteries, San Francisco, Uncategorized on May 23, 2014 at 9:11 am

A cool new (to me) blog: Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World


Cemetery of the Week #119: San Francisco’s Russian Hill

View from the crest of Russian Hill

Russian Hill
Vallejo between Taylor and Jones Streets
San Francisco, California
Founded: early 1800s?
Size: 1 acre remaining
Number of interments: unknown
Open: always

In the earliest days of the town of San Francisco, non-Catholic people were often buried where they fell, with sand simply scooped over them. One of the exceptions to that was the Russian graves atop what would come to be called Russian Hill in their honor.

Looking up at the crest of Russian Hill from Ina Coolbrith Park

“The Russian sailors buried their dead at the crest of [what would later be called] Vallejo Street, because the hard clay remained firm, unlike the sand on the summits of other hills,” reports Hills of San Francisco, published by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1959. It goes on to say that the dead men were seal hunters who had died aboard a ship commanded by Count Rezanov.

That would put their deaths early in California’s written history, as Nikolai Rezanov reached San Francisco’s Presidio on April 8, 1806. The modern biography on the National Park Service’s Presidio site says that he wasn’t a fur trader as much as a bureaucrat, trying to establish trade with the Spanish in California in order to resupply the Russian outpost in Sitka, Alaska. The Spanish refused to trade, but as negotiations dragged on, Rezanov fell in love with the Spanish Commander’s 15-year-old daughter, Concepcion Arguello. Her parents agreed to let them marry and Rezanov returned to Russia to secure permission of the Russian Orthodox Church. He died of pneumonia before he could return. Concepcion became a Dominican nun in Benicia, California, where  she remained until her death in 1857.

There are old pioneer reports of Russian crosses on the hill. Because it is so steep, the hill remained a goat pasture, covered in wild mustard, for many years as the city filled in around it.  This is San Francisco by Robert O’Brien describes the site during the Gold Rush era: “The top of this hill then was grass, bleached in the summertime, and rock and mustard.”

Local historian Michael Svanevik said in a lecture at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park that he believes the bodies are still beneath the surface of Russian Hill. Where, exactly, is a matter of conjecture. Some historians vote for the end of Vallejo Street, where it deadends into a bulkhead above Jones Street. Doris Muscatine, in her book Old San Francisco: The Biography of a City, reports that: “the exact site is now a ramp and staircase on the corner of Jones and Vallejo; during its construction, the work crews unearthed several skeletons.” John W. Blackett second that on his San Francisco Cemeteries website, mapping the Russian graveyard “at Vallejo and Jones Streets, overlooking Ina Coolbrith Park,” but he means Taylor Street, which lies alongside Coolbrith Park. I suspect the graveyard spanned the whole crest, from Jones to Taylor.

Rhoads_RussianHill_0969A bilingual plaque placed by the Russian government at the peak of the park says that “Russian Hill was named for the graves of several sailors of the ‘Russian-American Company,’ who died here in the early 1840s. During the Gold Rush, the 49ers found their graves, marked by wooden crosses, at the top of this hill and added graves of their own. The graves were removed or built over during the 1850s.”

Closeup on the English side of the plaque

It is possible that both stories are true: that the graveyard was used as early as 1806 and was still being used by the Russians during the early years of the Gold Rush. The whole truth probably will never be known, unless archaeologists get a chance to exhume any remaining skeletons and examine them. If they find a skeleton with a handful of dated coins, the whole story can be laid to rest.

Blackett believes there were never more than 30-40 graves here and that they — most of them, anyway — were moved to Yerba Buena Cemetery, where the Asian Art Museum and the Main Public Library now stand. Most (though not all) of those graves were exhumed in 1871 and moved out to the new Golden Gate Cemetery where the Palace of the Legion of Honor now stands.  Most (though not all) of those graves were exhumed in 1907 and moved to the new graveyards in Colma, California. However, more than 300 — and perhaps as many as 800 — skeletons were found when the Legion of Honor was retrofitted after the 1989 earthquake.  It’s generally accepted that many of the 16,000 pioneers buried here remain in place, with only the headstones being moved.

Perhaps some of our mysterious Russians lie among them.


Details, human details, that say You Are Welcomed…

In Cemeteries on May 18, 2014 at 10:52 am

Hey…we have a space for you, here….

Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Tex.

Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Tex.

A progression of welcome….

del Buono Gazerwitz Design: St. John's Wood

del Buono Gazerwitz Design: St. John’s Wood

With delights….

The Wrekin Garden. Shropshire. Design: Alan Gardener

The Wrekin Garden. Shropshire. Design: Alan Gardener

A quiet and important place for you…and your loved ones….

James Turell's Skyscape, Rice University, Houston

James Turell’s Skyscape, Rice University, Houston

A Gentle Glow

In Cemeteries on April 25, 2014 at 11:49 am

There are lots of times to physically, spiritually, and emotionally remember loved ones. These peaceful communal gatherings are some delightful examples…

Floating memorial candle, Japan

Floating memorial candle, Japan

Wyuka Cemty, Lincoln, Nebraska

Wyuka Cemty, Lincoln, Nebraska

A different time, a new time to remember

Memorial for tsunami victims, Japan

Memorial for tsunami victims, Japan

With calm intention

Christmas Eve, Finland

Christmas Eve, Finland


Cemetery Candles on All Saints' Day, Lacombe, Louisiana

Cemetery Candles on All Saints’ Day, Lacombe, Louisiana


Harvey Milk Memorial, Harvey Milk Plaza, San Francisco

Harvey Milk Memorial, Harvey Milk Plaza, San Francisco


Municipal Cemetery, Oaxaca, Mexico

Municipal Cemetery, Oaxaca, Mexico


All Saints Day, Poland

All Saints Day, Poland


All Saints' Day, Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm.

All Saints’ Day, Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm.


Veterans Cemetery Esquimalt, BC, Canada

Veterans Cemetery Esquimalt, BC, Canada


Children lighting candles on All Saints’ Day, in Banja Luka, Bos.-Her.

Children lighting candles on All Saints’ Day, in Banja Luka, Bos.-Her.



Human & Individual

In Cemeteries, Individual, Public, Shared space on March 24, 2014 at 10:17 am

Just as entire gardens of the dead for the living can reflect the immense variety of the life experiences of the dead, so too can memorials, headstones, and markers….


David Crowe’s Stone ring, in Kilkenny limestone with a stainless steel bar


Art and Memory Design


Stone Forest Design’s Water Table


John Das Design


Den Bosch Cemetery, Den Bosch, Holland


“Traditional” but unique: Greta Garbo’s grave in Skogskyrkogården Cemetery, Stockholm.

designed collaboratively by Wilson's long-term associates Peter Saville and Ben Kelly with Paul Barnes and Matt Robertson

designed collaboratively by Wilson’s long-term associates Peter Saville and Ben Kelly with Paul Barnes and Matt Robertson

Designed by  Fred Troller

Designed by Fred Troller

Care to pause, reflect, and enjoy here?

In Cemeteries, Public, Shared space on January 29, 2014 at 9:00 am

Charles Jencks: Metaphysical Landscapes at Jupiter Artland

Ahhhh…spaces for people: the ones who use these spaces…..


Garden Villa Noailles, France


Glenham Circular Landscape Tree

Jas joyce's grave Zurich

James Joyce’s grave Zurich

jefferson-memorial in jeff. gdn. U of Mo.

Jefferson Memorial in Jefferson Garden University of Missouri


Mount Auburn Cemetery

Nitobe Memorial Gardens at the University of British Columbia

Nitobe Memorial Gardens at the University of British Columbia

Stonepath, Newcastle, Northern Ireland

Stonepath, Newcastle, Northern Ireland


Garden in Stuttgart

WebbSchool Knoxville Ky MemorialGarden250_0839215521704

Memorial Garden, Webb School, Knoxville, Ky.

Theatre of Life&Death

In Cemeteries on November 18, 2013 at 10:20 am

More important thinking and designing from design for death architecture

By Architecture Practice + Experimentation-Jeffrey Bolhuis-Laurence Lord from Denmark

designers’ own words:

When somebody passes away, the bereaved find comfort in the age old traditional rituals and processes of laying their loved one to rest. This is not going to change. However there is an increasing trend towards the personalisation of these traditions. Already there is a wide choice in the various details associated with the ceremony but the architectural setting is always fixed. Why not let people decide the spatial experience for this very important and personal ceremony?


Theatre of Life&Death proposes to utilize techniques already present in modern theatres to create one highly flexible space that can cater for a large variety of all types of required atmospheres. Mobile lightweight architecture allows for alternative entrance and exit procedures; moving walls can reduce or increase spaces for different capacities so that it never feels empty; quick lighting changes, textured curtains and walls can alter the mood and the façades & roof can open up to bring the celebrants closer to nature.




Post-Community atop high-rise concept!

In Cemeteries on November 15, 2013 at 9:30 am

design for death architecture

POST-COMMUNITY by Marta Piaseczynska + Rangel Karaivanov from austria

img_4_1378075605_920e51e2ec59e3bf8a96dec31e389cae img_2_1378075605_100b8178d9508ec45a172a9d1091d480 img_3_1378075605_28b3cee4b0daa9d36e96b763560e191e img_1_1378075605_dd25f52151457d0ec488059c013b1659 

designer’s own words:

In times of accelerating urbanization and densification as well as an increase of the amount of visual media occupying the space of the city, cemeteries face the challenge of keeping up their relevance as a public urban space. Historically cemeteries were at the periphery of the city, over time they were integrated into the urban fabric as a network of green recreational areas. They are able to create an atmosphere of silence and piece but loose significance in the media loaded city of today.

Our project tries to develop a mediated cemetery that works as an interface between the city and the community of the decedents. The starting point for this was Aldo Rossi’s design for the cemetery in Modena, a house for urns, with no roof, no doors and no floors. It is a building that represents a community, a city of the passed-away. Our concept was to give this community a way to communicate with its environment by forming and changing space and light. Built on to an existing building in the centre of a city it would be visible from multiple viewpoints all over the city. Every urn describes a pixel of a three dimensional screen that displays its dynamics to the surrounding.

The design consists of four main elements; the crematory, a two storey plinth that sits on top of an existing building; a spiral ramp that leads to the main space of remembrance and creates an atmosphere of procession; the atrium space which consists of a glass-mirrored floor to reflect the sky and the cloud of urns to remove the ground and place the visitor in the centre of a space with no horizon; the frame and the movable urns which define and constantly change the volume, light and atmosphere of the space.

By calling out the name of the decedent, the urn will move towards the visitor; the other urns adapt their positions in order to make the way free for the called urn. Though this not only single urns but entire family trees or other connected people like school classes etc, can be called at the same time to move towards the visitor. This creates a dynamic that is communicated towards the city.

The urn itself consists out of a container for the ash, a space for memorabilia and a light that can be edited and reprogrammed by the visitor. It is fabricated out of light-weight translucent composite materials and aluminium for all mechanical parts. It is connected over three points to the frame and moves on rails through induction. Each urn moves according to a set of rules, the entity of urns develops complex motion.

The way up is long.. the only sound you can here is the whistling of the urns that move smoothly inside the frame, the humming of far distant city life three-hundred feet below. You hear a man calling a name, not the name of a person but of a company. Twenty-seven urns start to move towards him and organize so that they are all next to each other. He places a stone in each one of them, waits a minute and leaves. The urns, as organized as they were before move back into the complex cloud of the cemetery. At the end of the ramp you finally reach the atrium space; a space with no ground. It is difficult to describe the space you are in as it is constantly changing the form, the light, the wind blowing through the gaps, the atmosphere. A small group of people are gathered; a person dressed in black places a new urn into the grid. Everyone walks to the urn, waits for a second or two and continues walking. After the last member of the group, the urn closes slowly and disappears into the cloud to join the community.


Be sure to view the video to see this amazing concept in action:



ASHES & WATER. A columbarium in a pond….

In Cemeteries, Cremation on November 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Another amazing funeral design concept!

ASHES & WATER. a columbarium in a pond

ASHES & WATER. a columbarium in a pond by il.balan from mexico

designer’s own words:

The typology of cemeteries until early XXI century have been developed in a horizontal way increasing by the time their footprint and creating “Cities for the Dead”, which usually are seen as distant sites for “rest” where people remember their loved ones. Far away from the daily life, grieving process begins with the burial where family and friends back home feeling as dead as the corpse they just bury.
With this in mind, we propose to shorten the distance between “cities of the dead” and the daily life by introducing underwater columbariums in public spaces like pond parks.
We believe that if people have a closer contact with death and its consequences, when the death of a loved one happens, they can have grieving processes more natural and effective. Life and death are two sides of the same coin.

Following common process of making concrete; sand, gravel, cement, water, air and ashes of the deceased are mixed to form a remembrance block that their loved ones insert in a wall with triangle niches after funeral services. This concrete block becomes part of the columbarium. Also gives people a new experience of remembrance and consciousness about death, rituals of cremation and the beginning of grieving process. The remembrance block weight is similar to that of a newborn, so, the circle of life and death is closed. Blocks contain only the name and year of birth of the deceased. If we die when people forget us, death is just a physical state of change.

The pond reflects the park: a metaphor of the other world (death).A typical pond in a park is drained. After the columbarium is builded, the pond is refilled.

videoThe columbarium now is a public space for consciousness about death and bereavement.Triangle shape of the columbarium gives visitors the sense of a long corridor (the trip of life).Human ashes become part of the building.Life and death: two sides of the same coin.

Places to Pause….

In Cemeteries, Pathways on June 10, 2013 at 10:09 am

Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA

Needed: places to pause, places to rest, places of comfort….


Jefferson Memorial, Jefferson Garden, University of Missouri

In our journeys through cemeteries, we need places to rest…


Newscastle, Northern Ireland

We need human-scaled private places and pathways…


Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA

Materials that relate to us…


Webb School Memorial Garden, Knoxville, KY

Spaces made expressly for the living….Cemeteries provide environments of contemplation- we can encourage that with benches and walls to sit on, landscaping to screen us, vistas to inspire. It’s pretty straight-forward, but current design seems to make cemeteries drop-off and transitory places rather than transformational living places. 




In Cemeteries on April 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Hey- how about a little more brightness in cemeteries?

Holy Sepulchre Cemetey, Rochester, NY

Holy Sepulchre Cemetey, Rochester, NY

It’s Springtime, after all….

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, CA

Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, CA

Bright. Green. Alive….

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA

…A perfect time for fresh memoria

Japanese cemetery memoria

Japanese cemetery memoria

A new year begins, near the ones we love.

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