The Architecture of Death
November 25, 2008, 12:30 am
Filed under: Architecture, Design

Typically we try and stay away from them, but about once a year we end up at a big box store for all that stuff you just can’t get at your favorite boutique grocery store.  So there we were, rounding the corner of bulk pet food, passing the film drop-off counter, approaching printers and home electronics when out of nowhere appeared the Universal Casket booth.


Casket models range from $800 to $1,100.  For another two-hundred bucks you can upgrade to the deluxe model which offers 18 gauge steel, a premium crepe interior and an adjustable bed mattress.  Across the top of the booth were sepia prints of the elderly being comforted with the terms: “NON-EMOTIONAL, NON-THREATING, INFORMED, AFFORDABLE”.

Each casket displays gratuitous curves and flutes at every opportunity.  Ornate faux-chrome swooping handles flank the sides of the high-gloss boxes.  Elaborate icons glob onto each corner, taking their design queues from a combination of religious emblems and gumball machine jewelry.


To put it mildly, we were terrified.  We could spend our entire productive lives dedicated to good design and architecture and still end up in one of these, without the right planning.  How convenient it would be for some distant relative, not even born yet, to pick out a custom casket for you while stocking up on paper towels and Otter-pops.  As the last expression of design in ones life we’re going to do everything in our power to avoid such a catastrophe.

So, to bring this back around to design we’re announcing the first BUILDblog design charette.  The Architecture of Death Design Charette is open to anyone and everyone.  You can send in your own design or simply point us in the direction of a design you admire.  The designs can be of caskets, urns, headstones, or whatever else seems like an appropriate way for the design-conscious to kick the bucket.  There is one requirement: the design solution has to be modern; it must be designed with materials and methods of our current time.  Send in a napkin sketch, a rendering, a written idea, a web link – whatever best illustrates the concept.  We’ll round-up all the ideas and post them for everyone to see in a couple weeks.  The author of the best concept (decided by team BUILD) will grab themselves a gift certificate at Peter Miller Books.


17 Comments so far
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I avoid that corner of Costco as well. I have always liked Maximal design’s Cardboard cremation coffin, Soul Ash Solace since I came across it on a blog in college. I think it’s great in concept and form. Modern, ecological, and pretty darn good looking. I just couldn’t imagine not going out in style.

Comment by gdesign

I’m debating whether or not it would be considered “modern” but Le Corbusier’s tomb in Cap-Martin, France has always been an inspiring design:

Comment by Keyser

It is hard to top cesar portela’s cemetery in Galicia, ES.

it’s also really hard to beat axel schultes’ treptow kematorium, in berlin

Comment by mike

Its an obvious one, but I’ll go ahead and nominate Carlo Scarpa’s Brion Cemetary as a great example. Also his personal gravestone is nice.

Comment by Anonymous

I highly recommend a trip to the Capilano View Cemetery (I think this is the correct one) in Vancouver BC. While not completely modern, the architects designed a series of naturalistic stone walls that hold cremated remains.

But there are also do it yourselfers that are intriguing. I guess you’d never be up the creek without a paddle with this one.

Comment by ts

Although intended as more of a joke, the BBC came out with the “Top Ten Crazy Coffins” article a while back. They actually featured some thought provoking concepts like the sitting bench coffin and kite urn

Comment by Gus

ts the arch. for the capilano view cem. is pechet et robb.

they’ve done a number of cemeteries, actually. or parts of them.

Comment by mike

Check out the cocoon by designer Andreas Spiegel.

Comment by mobius

You guys are always touting the Scandinavians for their superior design – why would coffin design be any different? PP Møbler is experimenting with a rather handsome model .

Comment by knudsen

We came across the coffin table . It’s a fascinating idea to integrate your future coffin into your daily life and designer Charles Constantine has done a nice job with it.

Comment by buildllc

The idea of burying your entire body in a big box, regardless of what the box looks like, seems more and more ridiculous the further along in civilization we get. I like the Shell by Lots Design. The paper shell dissolves in water over time.

Comment by Richter

Where might one send a design idea to?

Comment by Les Fitzpatrick

OK, the in-store display is a real show-stopper, however, do not miss my all-time favorite: the (basically) chinese takeout box for ashes! But it’s not all bad, it’s silk and only $49! A deal on dyin’. Check it out here:|20595|20949&N=4000796&Mo=12&pos=1&No=5&Nr=P_CatalogName:BC&cat=20949&Ns=P_Price|1||P_SignDesc1&lang=en-US&Sp=C&ec=BC-EC1423-Cat20595&topnav=

Comment by Rebecca Teagarden

uh, how do you make a hyper link?

Comment by Rebecca Teagarden

Wow everybody – great ideas and designs, we’re not nearly so afraid of dying now.

Les – you can email designs to

Becky – the hyperlinks are sort of a pain in the arse. I’ll email you a sentence of code that will allow you to get on board the hyperlink train.

Comment by buildllc

You guys should check out what Greg Lundgren is doing at Lundgren Monuments. He is making a serious effort to design and get other artists/ designers to address this industry.

Comment by Ian

Drat – somebody just beat me to it. Lundgren is a pal of mine and his stuff is amazing. Showroom on Capitol Hill in Seattle.


Comment by Chase Jarvis

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