Udan Crematorium / d6thD design studio
Photographs: Inclined studio
Manufacturers: AutoDesk, Jaquar, Adobe, Asian paintings, Daksh Prajapati, Larson and Toubro, NITCO TILES
The ceremonial ramp deepens the transition between the spiritual park and the sunken crematorium – Our fear and discomfort in the face of death has left crematoriums with segregated, cold and depressing spaces in an urban context until now. To transform such a poorly performing Hindu crematorium into a vital location in the city of Amalsad in India, the d6thD design studio was commissioned by a private trust. The architect had the idea of creating an unrestricted place to perform cremation rituals, but to create a precious public space indispensable for daily use in urban settings.
The site and the entrance – The 2 acre site has contiguous roads on the north and west side, a small river on the south side, and a few residences on the east side. The site had a rough terrain of 5 meters running from north to southwest. The architect strategically transformed half of the profiled site into two main levels: the upper level for the public space and the lower level for the cremation space by the cut and fill method. The two levels are linked to the ramp considered as a ceremonial path.
Upon arriving at the northern route entrance plaza, visitors are persuaded to slow down with an invisible building and are offered several paths. However, the partially visible fireplace and the golden trident arouse curiosity. A ramp on the west side leads to the parking area and visitors can return to the square shortly using a staircase connecting the two.
Spiritual park – The upper level is fully landscaped with various spiritual gardens recognizing that in the Indian context, society evolves around religion and such spaces often become more than just a place of devotion. Less conventionally, these spaces are aimed at all ages and all genders, regardless of the part of the crematorium complex; the upper level becomes an important public space for socio-cultural engagement
Nandivan and Sitavan in the Lower West while the Children’s Playground and Vrindavan in the Upper East Side of the Entrance Square help to disperse the public mass. The wavy serpent-shaped path leading to an aniconic shivlinga in the far east provides a buffer between the cremation courts and adjacent residential units. All these spaces designed for the daily uses by the inhabitants are carefully mixed with the landscape at different levels honoring the condition of the profiled site.
Ceremonial path – A 5 meter wide and 60 meter long ramp (Muktimarg), specially dug in a profiled public park, takes mourners from the entrance plaza to the hidden crematorium. As you descend, the retaining walls create a pit effect and focus only on the funerary atmosphere. At the start of the ramp, the retaining walls house murals of different structures that are emblematic of the local town (school, college, temple, market, station, etc.) such as the reminiscence of the deceased. Small idols of various Hindu saints and their quotes; displayed in retaining wall niches create a pious atmosphere to calm those close to the deceased.
In the middle of the ramp, the bridge connecting two gardens at the top with hanging vines offers tranquility. Continuous planters on the top edge of retaining walls soften the visual impact and act as a security fence for gardens.
Another curvilinear ramp surprisingly reveals the sculpture of the great Lord Shiva; which cannot be seen from the entry level. According to Hinduism, meditating on Shiva in a crematorium speaks of estrangement from materialism and the constant understanding that one must die and be reduced to ashes. He recognizes the world and encapsulates it in “the philosophy of creation, sustenance and destruction – symbolized by Trishula. To accentuate this, Lord Shiva is visually framed with raised stone walls and the slab having a golden trident at the end of the handrail. This entire ramp trail encourages the gradual transition from the outdoor environment to indoor privacy, from outdoor noise to inner silence, and the dance of creation to the dust of death.
Cremation space – The sunken courts on the lower level allow for a controlled relationship with the outdoors and thus provide environments for reflection and remembrance. Two hexagonal shaped cremation pyres are arranged in a symmetrical pattern separated by a ramp giving the possibility of two funerals at the same time with the feeling of privacy.
The administrative office, prayer room and timber storage building are buried so that their roof becomes an extension of the public garden and maintains minimal visual impact. These underground installations are accessible from wide corridors opening onto cremation courtyards. These semi-open spaces become a waiting area where parents come together for a shared sense of loss during the cremation process. The stairs from the waiting area become a direct exit to the landscaped garden on the upper level avoiding embarrassing encounters between two different families. Using random rubble and locally available clay tiles is not only a quiet environment, but also cost effective and time tested.
The project encourages visitors to explore different spaces and to interpret its purpose through their own experiences and needs. By realizing death as a motivating element to focus the meaning of life both on a personal and social level; this unique crematorium – “Udan” becomes an important public space for the city as well as for the surrounding villages.