Monday, October 5, 2015

One size fits all?

“The classical man's worst fear was inglorious death; the modern man's worst fear is just death” 

― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In today's society one of the few enduring characteristics we all have in common is the inevitable end of mortality. As unique as we all like to consider ourselves we are unlikely to ever escape this common mortal fact. However, it is most often through our lives and our legacy that we distinguish ourselves - how we stand out, or rather up, and establish that which is us, that which is you, and that which is me. An even more dominating characteristic that we all share is the need for identity. No matter how complex or how small each of us considers ourselves to be ourselves.
"One size fits all" is a modern day cliche' often proclaimed by a variety of enterprises when trying to add appeal to their wares. But this idea serves to benefit the retailer and the manufacturer over the average consumer. Just imagine this idea applied to footwear or eyeglasses. In many ways 'one-size-fits-all' is merely a recipe for frustration. So, imagine the struggles a cemetery consumer must endure when trying to find a final disposition that "fits" their own needs and desires. In many communities there is a burden akin to the mythological tale of Procrustes when it comes to the options available to Cemetery Owners and the Public.
Indeed there are a variety of crypt space types available within the modern Community Mausoleum. Whether designing for an Indoor/Chapel mausoleum or an Outdoor/Garden mausoleum there can be applications for an arrangement of multiple crypt space types (see also- the primary types of Community Mausoleums ). It is important to understand the limitations and benefits of each crypt type in order that the Community Mausoleum fulfills its potential to provide an affordable product to the consumer while also enhancing the property with quality and variety.

As many cemetery terms have a varied meaning across different communities, consider the following definitions:

  • Casket - A single coffin containing the deceased's remains.
  • Crypt - An enclosed space for the entombment of a casket(s).
  • Niche - An enclosed space for the entombment of an Urn(s) (container of cremated remains).
  • Shutter - A single piece of polished granite or marble that covers the crypt opening and is used to secure the nameplate, bear the etching, secure the vase, etc.
  • Sealer - A single substrate that is mounted to the crypt opening behind the Shutter. This substrate is securely fastened to "seal" and secure the crypt.
The basic unit of a Community Mausoleum crypts is the Single Crypt. This unit is designed to entomb one casket, even though some properties may also permit the addition of an Urn. The casket is oriented by its shorter dimension when placed in this type of crypt. A Single Crypt provides a simple and autonomous memorial for the deceased.
Single Crypt
Exploded View of a Single Crypt, Sealer, and Shutter.
A variation of a Single Crypt is commonly known as a Couch Crypt. This unit is still designed to entomb one casket but it orients the caskets lengthwise to shutter when being placed. This results is a much larger and more dramatic Shutter dimension and incurs a greater expense by the consumer. A Couch Crypt can allow for either a single casket (Single Couch) or two caskets (Double-Depth Couch).
Exploded View of Couch Crypt, Sealer, and Shutter (left:Single Depth - right:Double Depth). Note the distinct multi-piece Shutter style that is possible with this crypt type.
The next unit is the Tandem Crypt or True-Companion Crypt. This unit is designed to entomb two caskets positioned 'end-to-end'. The caskets may be entombed at the same time or years apart. The Tandem Crypt provides a consumer perception of a 'shared' space while also allowing for a more affordable product. It also encourages economy by having the expense of a single Shutter and Memorial being shared across two entombments rather than one.
Exploded View of a Tandem (True Companion) Crypt, Sealer, and Shutter.
A variation on the Tandem Crypt and Single Crypt is the Side-by-Side Crypt. This unit allows for 2 caskets to be entombed at the same orientation as a Single Crypt without the presence of a 'wall' between them. This configuration provides for a variety of Shutter styles and appeals to many consumer's perception of a 'couple relationship'.
Exploded View of Side-by-Side Crypt, Sealer, and Shutter (Note that the Shutter can be a single piece or 2 pieces)
Another variation, similar to the Side-by-Side Crypt, is the In-and-Over Crypt. The entombment configuration for this unit is identical to that of the Side-by-Side Crypt with the exception being for how the first casket is placed. This configuration is an excellent method to mitigate interior corner conditions for plan layouts. The Side-by-Side Crypt is best used to provide feature areas which enhance the value of a Community Mausoleum through variety of cost and diversity of product.
Exploded View of the In-and-Over Crypt, Sealer, and Shutter. (Note that the fixed feature panel is adjacent to the operable single piece Shutter)
An example of how the In-and-Over crypt facilitates a feature panel for a Mausoleum.
An example of how the In-and-Over crypt
facilitates a back-lit stained glass feature.
An example of how the In-and-Over crypt
facilitates a mosaic feature.

An uncommon crypt unit is the Westminster Crypt. It offers a the ability to entomb two caskets with a shared Shutter much like the Side-by-Side Crypt, but the caskets are arranged vertically rather than by the horizontal. This style of crypt only occurs at the floor level whereas one casket is entombed below floor level and the other is entombed at floor level. This configuration is often used to add a quantity of inventory not otherwise available due to project height limitations or due to concerns over product efficiency. The Westminster configuration is also possible as an expansion of the Tandem Crypt but should be carefully considered against the needs and desires of the consumers.
Exploded View of the Westminster Crypt, Sealer, and Shutter.
The Sarcophagus, the Triple-Depth Crypt, and the Oversize Crypt are examples for other types of configurations that are not as commonly used. These crypt unit types are found in limited quantity and usually only to meet the specific needs of a project or consumer market. Though it should be noted that the Oversize Crypt (for all Crypt Types) represents a module that is designed to accommodate an above-average-width casket where necessary for the community.

The evaluation for each of these types of crypts when planning a Community Mausoleum is critical. Many consumers benefit from having a diverse range of product to select from when they consider a Community Mausoleum. A deliberate offering of these types of crypts adds variety, enhances experience, and provides affordability to a broader range of consumer interests and needs.
It is rather obvious that the various types of crypt configurations can satisfy the Public need for variety and diversity. But they also provide a consistent format for their consumer needs. The ability to have each configuration respond to a predictable pricing scenario allows the consumer to purchase a Community Mausoleum Crypt that best meets their needs and budget. Another great feature of these crypt configurations is their ability to accommodate a variety of Shutter styles and Shutter configurations.
The versatility, monumental quality, and affordable value offered by a Community Mausoleum is unlike any other cemetery offering. Its uniqueness becomes apparent when one understands the remarkable characteristic of how it enables a meaningful individual expression for the most common of human conditions. The modern and well-designed Community Mausoleum may certainly be Theseus for the heroic labour of giving the cemetery consumer a much needed rest.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Road Less Traveled...

"Death ends a life, not a relationship." -
Jack Lemmon

Dead space in a cemetery seems like a given, or at least a redundancy - but perhaps not where, or how, you may expect. Within a cemetery, dead space is anywhere that is not being utilized to promote the sense of community, memory, and hope. Unfavorable land conditions, roads, and other unusable locations within a cemetery are what I would consider to be the true dead space in a cemetery. Ironically, dead space can quickly become a cemetery's most daunting challenge and liability against remaining a viable service to the community. For space, or rather land, is a cemetery's most valuable asset without question. In fact there are few other, if any, enterprises where the product is sold and then the product (and often the buyer) is still possessed by the seller. Available space in a cemetery is a direct measure of the value and viability of a cemetery within the community. This is not to say that a cemetery should become a closest packing exercise in logistics, but it is not uncommon and has to be considered against ideas set forth in master plan. The expression of density within a cemetery can take many forms and hold a variety of values.
Argentine cemetery

Hong Kong cemetery

The activity of the community within the cemetery is what determines its success. Visitations and the ability to have succeeding generations of family and community members interred in close proximity is a beneficial and necessary texture provided by the viable cemetery for its community's fabric. This post will explore how underutilized areas of a cemetery can be revitalized into a valuable resource for the cemetery and its community. The American poet Robert Frost is best known for writing the following lines from his poem "The Road not Taken" -
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It is first proper to estimate that about 20% of all cemetery property is unusable with regards to interring or memorializing the deceased. This un-usability originally stems from property easements, setbacks, natural features like trees or ponds, and the necessary infrastructure of a cemetery - for example - an office, a maintenance area, and - of course - cemetery roads.
Cemetery roads by far occupy the lion's share of a cemetery's unusable land area. In this writing I would like to explore the potential for a cemetery road ,or rather a section of cemetery road, as a viable location for the cemetery. Quite often older cemeteries struggle from a history of poor planning or by diminishing resources. In an effort to maintain a service to the community, these cemeteries must expand their burial areas, usually outward by means of acquiring additional property outside of the current cemetery boundaries - but it is also possible to expand inward. This inward expansion is the topic of my discussion with this post. Specifically I would like to speak about how the creative use of "road closures" can provide an invigorating and valuable resource to a cemetery within a reasonable scope of cost and development.
While my examples here will be somewhat generic, a careful review of a cemetery property will reveal the most appropriate locations for a potential road closure. Quite often these opportunities reveal themselves around ground areas that have a variety of access points and have been occupied by existing burials for quite some time, where visitations are minimal and new burials are not possible.
Let us assume the following example: a 50 foot (~15m) section of road will be reclaimed by a cemetery to provide new opportunities for the cemetery consumer. While 50 feet is not a significant amount of land area (.02 acre), it provides a simple and modular example of how a road closure can be developed in a variety of methods and provide different quantities and qualities of burial options for the cemetery consumer.

Example of a road reclamation project. This area illustrates approximately 800 sq.ft.(74 sq.m.) to 1,000 sq.ft (93 sq.m.) of area that can be re-developed - and is assumed to have grave sites along both sides.

Simply removing the road surface and providing typical landscaping will quickly yield traditional in-ground burial spaces. These spaces would be well received by those who may have family members buried nearby or if it makes a desirable section 'available' again. This solution requires the least investment and effort but offers little opportunity or variety for the consumer. Total yield in this example is 36 sites (72 interments at double-depth)
Adding some variety to the development can be responsive to the desires of the community as well as add a layer of variety to a neglected section. While this variation provides a yield that is less than a traditional in-ground burial development, the value and opportunity is increased for the consumer. Total yield in this example is 16 sites (32 interments at double-depth)
A mausoleum will maximize the land area with its yield while providing a monumental quality to the location. Total yield in this example is 96 crypts (192 interments)

A more deliberate variation of the mausoleum can respond to the desires and sensibilities of the consumer. This allows for the area to respond to a variety of wants and needs from the consumer. Total yield in this example is 108 crypts and 80 niches (162 crypt interments + 80 niche interments = 242 total interments).

The following examples are projects that were developed using the concepts described above.
Road Closure Mausoleum - Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood CA

Road Closure Mausoleum - Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood CA

Road Closure Mausoleum - Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood CA

Road Closure Mausoleum - Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood CA

Road Closure Mausoleum - Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood CA

 Existing Conditions - Road Closure Lawn Burials - Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood CA

 Existing Conditions - Road Closure Lawn Burials - Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood CA

 Existing Conditions - Road Closure Lawn Burials - Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood CA
Plan concept - Road Closure Lawn Burials - Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood CA

Concept proposal - Road Closure Lawn Burials - Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood CA

So, clearly there are several opportunities for a cemetery to continue providing service and maintain a variety of offerings to the community. Within its existing boundaries and with a little imagination, and as much effort, a cemetery can significantly extend its life and its activity within the community by simply going down the road less traveled.....and what a difference that will make.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Potential Community Mausoleum

"Does it follow that the house has nothing in common with art and is architecture not to be included in the arts. Only a very small part of architecture belongs to art: the tomb and the monument. Everything else that fulfils a function is to be excluded from the domain of art." - Adolf Loos

A few years ago I had the distinct pleasure to visit the UK and tour a few cemeteries, meet some great people, and form a few opinions about how the cemetery industry is both similar and different than the industry in my home country of the United States and a few other places. The experience was wonderful and I often think about the opportunities and excitement in the UK cemetery industry. One such opportunity is the community mausoleum. I was surprised at how underutilized the concept was within the UK cemetery industry, and even a little shocked at how timid the progress was towards developing authentic, robust, and viable community mausoleum projects. This was accentuated by the glaring lack of land resources for many of London's prestigious and beautiful cemeteries, which have historical and community value beyond measure. Anyway, my initial summary of my first trip to the UK cemetery industry was rather lackluster and critical. Perhaps my expectations were aimed incorrectly or perhaps I had brought along too much American arrogance. Nevertheless, I believe in the UK cemetery industry, I was consistently excited about the possibilities and the people. So, recently I was inspired to contribute to, as opposed to evaluate, the UK cemetery industry . I considered my area of expertise as a good starting point and one that I hope is well received. So, this brings the topic of community mausoleum to the table, and the following is a primer for those who may know little or not enough about how a community mausoleum contributes to the success and profitability, and thus the longevity, of a cemetery.
Mausoleums have been viable and successful alternatives to direct ground burial for a long time. This has been especially true in urban areas, both as a solution to land density and as a way to provide diverse communities with a method of interment that may be either traditional or optional. So, the initial question a cemetery must ask itself, is "Should I have a Mausoleum?". All too often a cemetery asks itself this question when the availability of land is limited or is perhaps not viable for other cemetery uses. There is no doubt that a community mausoleum will provide higher utilization of land area, whether that area is suitable for other purposes or not. It may not be considered enough that a cemetery lives only as long as it has land available, so the management of that resource is tantamount to good business. Many times a cemetery will disregard land that has high water tables, variations in grades, or drainage issues - but this land can be prosperous as a site for a community mausoleum. The hesitation in some markets to embark upon a community mausoleum program often stems from inexperience and a lack of knowledge for how a successful community mausoleum development can re-invigorate a cemetery property - both as a business and a community fixture.I would suggest the following criteria be used when a cemetery considers the possibility of implementing a community mausoleum program.

  • Can the community or geographic area being served by the cemetery justify a community mausoleum?
  • Would the social and ethnic composition of the population being served by the cemetery consider a community mausoleum desirable?
  • Can the construction cost of a community mausoleum be supported by expected sales?
Positive answers to these questions would require that a cemetery acquire more information before making a final decision on the initiation of a community mausoleum program. Most often this would information gathering would take the form of a feasibility study. Now certainly a cemetery can collect information personally, but it is more beneficial to hire a consultant or a reputable firm to take charge of marketing and construction (and possibly sales if an experienced sales staff were not available). A feasibility study would be comprised of 3 main guidelines:
  • Accessibility - How good is the transportation in the area? Does the transportation system(s) influence the growth or the decline of the cemetery?
  • Characteristics - What is the economic and cultural composition of the area? Is the community growing? declining? stagnant?
  • Population - How many people are in the area being served? What is the quality and quantity of competing cemeteries? What are the current market values for burial products being offered by the cemetery and cemeteries in the area?
A cemetery cannot underestimate the value of a feasibility study because it can determine a community mausoleum's success or failure. Regardless of the area's size, a feasibility study will provide a comprehensive evaluation the potential market and will readily inform the cemetery whether a community mausoleum is a bad idea or a good idea. So, if the feasibility study is favorable a cemetery would proceed with a marketing survey. There are several methods to marketing a community mausoleum, but regardless of the means - the success of a community mausoleum program will depend on its perception by the public when the program is young! While there is no need to go into too much detail here, it should be noted that a few marketing strategies are effective - whether alone or in combination.
  • Community canvassing - door-to-door, telephone, or mass mailing.
  • Bulletins - circulated through entities of interests like churches, businesses, or advertisements in the newspaper and magazines.
  • Education - periodic events sponsored by the cemetery to display and inform the public about the community mausoleum program (holiday gatherings, festivals, open houses...).
Though these are but a few examples, they typify how a cemetery can measure the interest of the public for a community mausoleum program, gather valuable feedback, and even promote the community mausoleum program. This information will provide the cemetery with an idea of how to estimate what size of a community mausoleum is appropriate. This information will also determine an appropriate sales program for the community mausoleum program. Then a cemetery would need to plan for the development of a site. The development of a site would involve some mild investigative engineering and design - which is best handled by someone with experience. An experienced mausoleum architect or construction company would assist the cemetery in determining the best materials and methods for constructing the mausoleum so that goals may be successfully met.
So, most often a mausoleum program will consist of one or more basic types of mausoleums and each one
 can range in scale from modest to quite large.

  • Indoor Mausoleum or Chapel Mausoleum - has enclosed space(s) which are protected from the elements an are usually heated and cooled. Often these contain more traditional building amenities, like electrical lighting, toilets, office space, and even elevators.

  • Outdoor Mausoleum or Garden Mausoleum - Has no spaces that are enclosed and offers little weather protection or amenities for the public.

  • Combination Mausoleum - Has a combination of both Indoor and Outdoor spaces. Most mausoleums are constructed as combination mausoleums because this type offers a broader range of cost and preference to the consumer and is often the most efficient type of mausoleum to construct.

All three of the types of mausoleums have their own risks and rewards, but all three will bring about great success to any cemetery's mausoleum program. However, there is some criteria that every cemetery should consider as necessary to any community mausoleum program's success:
  • The mausoleum must be dignified and appealing - of monumental quality
  • The mausoleum should reflect the cemetery's values and principles.
  • The mausoleum's site should be developed to compliment the mausoleum.
  • Simplified construction methods will keep construction costs low.
  • The duration of developing a mausoleum project should be considered - a cemetery benefits from early availability of a mausoleum.
  • Construction costs should be considered as both lump sum and as individual product (crypt).
  • Mausoleums should be designed to require as little maintenance as possible.
  • Mausoleums should be secure.
  • Mausoleums should provide opportunities and varieties of product to fulfill the needs of consumers today and tomorrow.
As cemeteries expand, and/or land resources become more scarce, their inventories will become more community mausoleum oriented. A community mausoleum construction system, whether cast-in-place of concrete or pre-manufactured (pre-cast) will be functional and successful if it is designed and built by experienced professionals. Once a decision has been made to implement a community mausoleum program in a cemetery, it can be difficult to choose a construction system - but the informed choice will provide a community mausoleum that has long term durability and perpetuates the usability of any cemetery. Recognize that as our communities change and consumer perceptions evolve, so must the cemetery. Today's cemetery is just as necessary as yesterday's graveyard - and not just as a place of disposition, but as a place in the community - but it is the cemetery which will determine whether that place is vibrant and alive like the community it serves or whether that place is lifeless and forgotten, ironically a cemetery has the potential to be either.