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The BIome Necropolis

Naomi Birks

Brighton School Of Architecture, UK.

Given the rapid decrease in cemetery spaces, increasing urban populations and the acute environmental toll of both burial and cremation within a city context, the Biome Necropolis is an alternative disposition method for the dead. The proposal celebrates the cycle of life and death, whereby the architecture is informed by an allegory between the dying body and re birth expressed through a productive and regenerative landscape memorialising the dead.

Your project is particularly unique in the way it explores life and death, what in particular sparked your intrigue to explore this topic?

Initially I wanted to pick a topic that would provoke interest and I truly believed that a project surrounding death would cause intrigue. As soon as I started to research further into the topic it became absolutely fascinating and in terms of developing a project around the topic it was so rich. Particularly in an urban context there is a rapid decrease in cemetery space, increasing urban populations and the acute environmental toll of both burial and cremation, these were the issues I wanted to tackle. I came across the process of profession and developed this technological process further in order to generate an alternative disposition method for the dead. The proposal celebrates the cycle of life and death, whereby the architecture is informed by an allegory between the dying body and re-birth expressed through a productive and regenerative landscape. The project is based in Iceland but could essentially be placed anywhere in the world, generating green space within an urban context. 


You have a very unique visual style, is there anything or anybody in particular that influenced it?


Laszlo Moholy-Nagy has always been a favourite of mine, he taught at the Bauhaus and established the Institute of Design in Chicago. I particularly enjoy the light space modulator, here is a video link to the piece of work ( Max Ernst's surrealist techniques also influenced me greatly in my final year. I would often look on the RIBA presidents medal website and look at various students work for graphic and visual style influences, it has such a broad spectrum of work, I highly recommend any students to use this key resource. 

You make great use of the section and axonometric drawing techniques, has this always been your favoured drawing style?

I have always found sections incredibly difficult to work with, they tend to look very flat and by far the hardest drawing to bring to life. This is partially the reason why I would always draw sectional perspectives to add an element of depth, they also express the level of detail better. 


Axonometrics have always been my favourite type of drawing, it is much easier to express the level of detail and complexity in an axonometric and the best way to show the entire scheme. I tend to draw skeleton axonometric where you remove the land and walls this exposes the entire scheme and allows you to describe the individual spaces better. 

The project features a number of intriguing structures and forms, particularly the hotel like structure which houses the deceased. How did you the process of life and death influence the building forms?


There are three entrances, one for those in mourning, the deceased and the public. At this stage those in mourning and the public are kept separate. For the public this area is a digital core, the public can also be referred to as those in mourning re visiting - this area had access to digital information on the rate of plant growth of the memorial plot in the landscape of the deceased.


The deceased are temporarily housed in a hotel like structure, the configuration of the room allows for cold air to filter into the central chamber, to contain the body in ultra cool temperatures. The room is made up of three sections. Section one is enclosed with no apertures, with an area for the space to be personalised, meaning that the descendants bring items of the deceased and leave them there. The process of disconnection begins in the second section, small apertures are introduced, bringing natural lighting into the space. The third section completely opens up, flooding the room with natural lighting into the space and framing the surrounding landscape, as further development of the disconnection process.


When it is time for the ceremony to begin, the family enter one of thee processional pathways. These walkways are on a pivotal bridge that disconnects the public when the funeral is in progress, this walkway is the final moment of separation from the physical sense of the deceased. The body moves across the walkway and through the landscape on a concertina tracking system, a transitional period from physical to spiritual, as the track closes in behind the body. It also decreases in height whilst those in mourning walk parallel but stay on the same level, as a further emphasis on being disconnected. (Continued...)

To start the process of confronting death the next structure slowly introduces those in mourning into a space inhabited by a controlled number of people from the public. This area includes respites incase those in mourning want to momentarily remove themselves from this scenario. Accessed by the second pivotal bridge the second walkway has been designed to be taken individually, a journey of contemplation, it is lit up with small apertures representing those that have passed, influenced by the Jewish museum.

Those in mourning now enter the promession chapel with a vertical depiction of private and public space, created through the fluted form. it is at this point that those in mourning are given the choice of how they wish to experience this new type of ritual, whether it is a public or private experience. The ritual begins with a performance of light being filtered directly into the main structure, when the periscope system is in the correct configuration. When the PV motors absorb enough energy the promession process begins, the chamber housing the deceased begins to rotate. 


For those wanting to fully immerse themselves into the experience, they can move down into the promession body housing structure where they can view the structure in motion, with the use of light and mirrors the structure rotates casting dancing shadows across the space creating a performance of light.


After the process is completed the public exit the chapel on the outskirts, where as those in mourning leave through the central core, where they enter designated rooms containing ashes.The apertures of the room decrease as a method of slow re-introduction momentarily to the public.


The fertile solution is contained in small urns that are hung in the ethereal underground garden of the deceased, whereby the first stage of germination begins. The cave has been designed in a way where the conditions are similar to that of a greenhouse. It also represents the same results as the material samples. Humidity would collect in pocketed areas, creating moments of fragile conditions, with representations of life and death and also the emotions of those in mourning. The germination structures pierce through the ground bringing vast amounts of natural sunlight into the space. In the winter months the plants will be artificially lit with LED’s, creating a ballroom atmosphere throughout the cave.

You were nominated for the RIBA Silver Presidents medal award and rightfully so with your beautiful imagery and an innovative concept, what was this experience like? 


It was absolutely incredible when I found out that I was nominated and I was incredibly proud. It was hard work as I had to continue working on the project throughout the summer, it almost felt like a had run a marathon and someone told me to run another one the next day. However, it was incredibly rewarding to simply be nominated and has opened many doors for me. 


You now work at MAKE architects, how are you enjoying working in a large and reputable practice?


I love every minute of working for MAKE, it is such an exciting company to work for. I have been exposed to some incredible projects and continue to develop my skills and knowledge as I go along, with lots of incredibly talented people to learn from. 


Could you give our followers an insight to any of the projects you have been working on recently? 

Unfortunately I can not say too much as they are highly confidential but I am working on projects around the world including jet terminals, train stations and large scale multi use projects. 

If there was one piece of advice you could give to an architecture student what would it be? 


Find something unique for your thesis to work on but always pick something you thoroughly enjoy, this always reflects in the work. Push boundaries and be innovative! 


Last but not least, make sure you go to bed at a normal time, all nighters are no good for anyone! 


Finally where can people find your work and keep up to date with your work and projects? 


I have recently taken down my website but I tend to be really active on both my instagram accounts @nbdesignlab and my personal account @naomibirks. Feel free to get in touch for any advice! 

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