Unbuilt Vancouver: Crematorium on the Sea Wall


“When we find a mound in the woods, six feet long and three feet wide, raised to a pyramidal form by means of a spade, we become serious and something in us says: someone was buried here. That is architecture.” -Adolf Loos

Crematorium under the Cambie Street Bridge by Kelly Gartner
Crematorium under the Cambie Street Bridge by Kelly Gartner

Housing affordability is an issue that impacts all of us, alive or dead. In 1986, Vancouver’s only cemetery, Mountain View Cemetery, was considered full. In the aftermath, the cemetery has undergone renovations in an attempt to keep up with the demand – people are literally dying to get in. Most burials for Vancouverites now happen in the suburbs.

Kelly Gartner is an Intern Architect living and working in Vancouver who is interested in death and its relationship to the city. In 2009, Kelly created a design for a crematorium along the Sea Wall, underneath the Cambie Bridge. Her design, titled Embodying the City, has two objectives:

1. To address issues of real estate conflicts between the living and the dead
2. To address modern society’s collective desire to overpower death and resist mortality by creating a public space for the appreciation and reflection upon death itself.

Diagram by Kelly Gartner describing how many Mountain View Cemeteries would be required by year 2110 to keep up with demand.
Diagram by Kelly Gartner describing how many Mountain View
Cemeteries would be required by year 2110 to keep up with demand.

Kelly describes the project:

“Modern culture has increasingly distanced us from the way we have understood death for thousands of years: medicine has significantly extended our lifespans, we no longer take an active role to bury our own family members, and sometimes, we do not even have a place for their remains after they have passed away. I believe that by disconnecting ourselves from our own mortality we have weakened our appreciation for the significance of life itself. By bringing the place of the living and the place of the dead into a single gesture it will dissolve and simultaneously articulate the boundary between life and death.

The central element is a functioning crematorium with public amenity and infrastructure integrated into it in the form of a café, public bathrooms, and a strong pedestrian and cyclist link between the Cambie Street Bridge and the Sea Wall. The storage of remains is reimagined into illuminated stacked columns that disperse out into the landscape along the seawall to create a boundless resting place for the departed. This design is sensitive to the process of cremation, the privacy of the mourner, and the needs of the public domain. The privacy of the mourner was an interesting challenge as the desired outcome of the project was to reintroduce reflection upon death and mortality into the public realm in a quite visible way. This design returns the significance of life and death to the public realm, meanwhile keeping a respectful, reflective and private experience for the mourners.

Just as much as this project is about death, and creating a permanent place for death within the city, the dead body has also been a vehicle to investigate the ability of architecture to challenge a social understanding thereby informing how we interact with the world, not only through the physical space that architecture sculpts, but also the cerebral space that the experience of architecture can also sculpt. Architecture has the capacity to influence how we think and interpret the material world.” -Kelly Gartner

If you are interested in Kelly and her work she can be reached via email at kagartner@gmail.com

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James is an architect and writer from Vancouver, British Columbia with a passion for affordable housing, public space, design, and the Pacific Northwest. James has worked on architecture projects across the lower mainland and has written for Canadian Architect, Objekt International, and Price Tags. He holds a Masters in Architecture from the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design and a Bachelors of Applied Science in Civil-Structural Engineering from the University of Waterloo. James has been an AIBC architectural awards jury member, has served on UBC SALA Thesis Committee, and was awarded a special mention in the Urbanarium's Missing Middle competition. He lives in Gastown with his wife Errin, a cool optometrist responsible for his maple glasses.