Studio brief: Death in Lewes.

The Venice Bienalle in 2014 saw Alison Killing curate an exhibition called Death in Venice where she mapped London’s death-associated architectural features — hospitals, cemeteries, crematoria, and so on — making visible the invisible mechanics of death and dying.

The architecture of death, these are the places that define our being as we move into the memories of others….from light to dark. And all the shades in between. It is perhaps peculiar then that little is focused on the least fleeting of occasions, that of our eventual demise. Surely if architecture is to have value, it is here – the point where humans, space and earth re-connect?

But like everything else, the way we see and manage death has changed, and our architecture has been slow to adapt with it.

How do we bring death back into the architectural landscape and is there something to be learned from funerary architecture of the past? How can architecture better support the dying process? Do we need to reconsider the buildings programmes to include not just the dying but the living as well? How do we design for new ways of burial within the restraints of a scarcely resourced planet, environmental and economical? And how does architecture re-connect us with our own mortality, help us celebrate life, but without necessarily having to sign-up to a deity?

With an ageing population; pressured palliative and care-home provision; a history steeped in war and mass burials; burning crosses representing the martyred protestants burnt at the stake in the 6th Century; an ageing geography with chalk cliffs and eroding rivers; Lewes Cemetery running out of grave places; concerns at Lewes prison having too many suicides and deaths within its walls; the local district hospital running out of morgue space; its mortuary offering biodegradable coffins and woodland burials.It even has its own Death Cafe.

The landscape in Lewes, its human, physical and political geographies, has arguably got death at its core – and its future.

And so, the brief for Studio 07 is to design and propose an Architecture of/& Death building programme (be it a new death typology or an altered, updated one), relevant to the context of Lewes… and then design a building in response to this hypothesised programme.