Student: Katherine Lee
Advisor: Alberto Pérez-Gómez
Studio: Directed Research Project
Year/Term: Fall 2017
Mythologies from various cultures commonly allude to the concepts of birth and death. Even in our Western World, we continue to be amazed by these two natural phenomena as evident in the stories we share. We seem to embrace the concept of birth, but we vehemently avoid embracing death. This avoidance is apparent throughout the writings of various contemporary and modern novelists and our continued pressure to appear and act ‘young.’
With this in mind, death is an essential phenomenon that contemporary Western mythologies can explore. Through various rituals, in a polysemic world, we can begin to understand how science and ritual can work together to produce mythology surrounding death. With the contemporary trend and need for sustainable ways to bury the dead, we can look towards processes such as aquamation as potential avenues for new rituals.
Using research from my previous studies on the possibility of myth in architecture, I propose an urban columbarium centered around the aquamation process. Found at the intersections of Montreal’s downtown core to the St. Lawrence River, Niche Reprise takes inspiration from the Western understanding of death as a basis for how we approach myth. A contemporary conception of myth would require its demythologization; that is, to create myths we must address its loss in our societies. With this in mind, I wanted to challenge our relationship to death, one that is arguably detached, on an urban scale.
Combining the process of aquamation, one without a specific ritual, to funerary procedures I propose a new western practice to deal with death. Through architecture’s relationship to myth, Niche Reprise addresses the highly scientific process of aquamation with the universal and polysemic poetics of water.
Inspired by the narratives of various mythologies and the use of poetry as both a design and representational tool, the architecture lives in the mode of experience. Niche Reprise is a funeral home, columbarium, and place for meditation, celebration, and grieving. Various places and rooms within the columbarium offer different polysemic experiences and understandings of death. The architecture suggests modes of exploration and the user is left to discover the meanings of rituals, death, and the urban environment.
By placing the columbarium right at the gateway into and out of the city, Niche Reprise becomes a daily confrontation between the public and death. The city of the living welcomes the city of the dead, and through this confrontation, inevitable understandings of our relationship to death are conjured.