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Designing for death in Venice Using Carlo Scarpa’s work as a model for exploring the relationship between architectural details and the rituals surrounding death

Tanya Haldipur Palace of Ecologies ARC3015 150268626


“those who experience a more ritualistic form of mourning adapt more readily to life after the funeral� ~ Geoffrey Gorer, Sociologist0

Contents Introduction 7 The concept - death in Venice


Water - a symbol for the continuity of life


Celebrating the journey - as far as the eye can see


Details - the ritual behind key moments


Summary 35 List of images 36 Bibliography 37

Introduction In Venice, where land is becoming scarce for burial, my building proposes a progressive alternative, an eco-crematorium, in order to save the cities’ dead. But this building must be designed with respect for the religious beliefs of Roman Catholics and therefore it is crucial to look to the past in order to design for the future. Carlo Scarpa, an Italian architect, believed that “a deep understanding of the history and culture of a place [is] necessary to the making of an architecture appropriate to that place.”1 He was also known for designing buildings that were “determined and shaped by the experience of the inhabitant”2 and took great care in designing everything, from the overall experience down to details such as hinges, to enhance these experiences. Similarly, designing a crematorium must be carried out with sensitivity and an understanding of the emotional state of visitors. Thus, explorations into possible stages of grief have influenced my programmatic layout greatly. This essay will be used to explore the more intangible qualities of my building and how they can be achieved with different mediums by looking at Scarpa’s techniques in “creating works that unfold the poetic and experiential richness of materials”2 within two of his designs: Tomba Brion and Fondazione Querini Stampalia.

Grainger, Hilary J., Death Redesigned; British Crematoria: History, Architecture, and Landscape. (Reading: Spire Books Ltd. in association with The Cremation Society of Great Britain. 2005) p.32 1 Robert McCarter and Carlo Scarpa, Carlo Scarpa (London: Phaidon Press, 2013), p.274 2 Robert McCarter, Carlo Scarpa, p.4 0


Fig. 1


Context - death in Venice Although burial is the preferred choice, the Vatican published new guidelines in 2016, stating: “when, for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place… which has been set aside for this purpose.”3 In order to achieve this sense of finality, my crematorium will offer two options: to incorporate the human ash into either a bio-urn that can be buried within the grounds of the site and will grow into a tree over time or an artificial reef that can be placed in the lagoon to protect against erosion. Together these reflect the Catholic belief in eternal life as well as signifying Venice’s longstanding relationship with both land and sea4.

“Instruction Ad Resurgendum Cum Christo Regarding The Burial Of The Deceasedand The Conservation Of The Ashes In The Case Of Cremation”, Vatican.Va, 2016 4 Tanya Haldipur, Technology report Arc3013 2018 3


Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute - used to celebrate the Festival di Salute to give thanks for the end of a plague in the 17th century

Church of Redentore - used to celebrate Festival of Redentore which gives thanks for the end of a 16th century plague Fig. 2


Remembran soldiers w


San Michele Island current Venetian burial ground

Park of nce -commemorating the who fought in WWII


The building site sits in the centre of locations in Venice that mark ‘death’ in some form or another 11

“I wanted to express the naturalness of water… water is the source of life”5 ~ Carlo Scarpa Fig. 3 12


A symbol for the continuity of life

In Roman Catholicism, water is sacred and the ritual of tracing the sign of the cross with holy water signifies the cleansing of sins and protection against evil6. At a Catholic funeral, during the ‘reception of the deceased’, the casket is sprinkled with holy water7 , an act which is reminiscent of that performed during the deceased’s baptism. This renewal of rituals reflects the Catholic belief that “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”8

Scarpa - A Documentary, 2018 < watch?v=9KxXgkEWK1U> [Accessed 18 April 2018]. 6 Philip Bold, 2008 Catholic Doctrine and Discipline Simply Explained ISBN 1-4097-8610-2 page 283 7 ”Symbols In The Funeral Mass”, Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, 2018 <https://> 8 “Bible Gateway Passage: John 3:5 - Revised Standard Version”, Bible Gateway<https://www.

Aside from its religious connotations, water is of extreme significance to Venice, which celebrates its ‘marriage to the sea’ annually during the Festa della Sensa. Thus, the use of this medium throughout my design is essential to highlight its importance to Venice, both spiritually and culturally. Scarpa saw the fluidity of water as a symbol for the continuity of life. He used it as a medium to reflect both physical and experiential qualities in both Tomba Brion and Querini Stampalia and these techniques have been invaluable in informing my own designs.


While water is commonly celebrated in Venice, flooding is increasingly becoming an issue and, as my site lies close to the lagoon, it is at high risk. However, rather than proposing expensive mechanical systems to keep the water out, like the recently introduced MOSE gates, I want to look at how water can be embraced. Scarpa’s renovation at Querini Stampalia is a good example of how this can be achieved. By creating a moat-like concrete trench on the previously flooded ground floor, he was able to produce “an all-seasonal reminder of Venice’s intimate relationship to the water”9 (fig 4).

Perforated iron gates allow water to move freely in and out The raised interior gangway is cantilevered above the other steps and prevents the water from accessing this section.

10:30am 13:00pm

Fig. 4 - Sectional diagram of water flowing in

The steps and gate together act as a visual mapping of the tidal variations in the Venetian lagoon 14


Fig. 5 - Image of trench at Querini Stampalia by Scarpa

In a similar way, I have endevoured to create a site that reflects the fluctuating nature of the lagoon (fig 6 and 7). At acqua alta (high tide), the excess water flows from the main canal through side channels into stepped moats surrounding the numerous â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;reflection podsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; around the site, resulting in a deeper connection between people and water.

fig. 6 External sketch

When tide is down, steps are accessible

Crossing over water is symbolic of pathway to heaven or peace


Robert McCarter and Carlo Scarpa, Carlo Scarpa (London: Phaidon Press, 2013), p. 167


Water rises and fall with the tide and excess water from the new canal is filtered into these moats to reduce flooding

â&#x20AC;&#x153;contact with water can signal entrance into prayerful composure... there is also something about contact with water that frees our inhibitions and spiritsâ&#x20AC;?10

fig. 7 Interior

Lower-level glazing allows mourner to get a view of water as it fills up without compromising privacy

10 Charles Willard Moore, Water And Architecture (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1997), p. 203.


Scarpa often makes reference to the canals of Venice in his designs and at both Querini Stampalia and Tomba Brion, he has used channels to represent a â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;miniature Veniceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;, honouring the deep connection that the city has with its waterways.

Fig. 8 - sketches of water feature in Querini Stampalia courtyard - a miniature Venice


Fig. 9 - water feature in Tomba Brion


â&#x20AC;&#x153;as water seeps into the earth, it evokes the cyclical return and journey back to the source, with images of departure, death, and hope-for return.â&#x20AC;?11

Remembrance Chapel Reflection pods

11Charles Willard Moore, Water And Architeure (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1997), p. 21.

Fig. 10


Water channel directs eyes out to lagoon

Larger channel prevents public access to services side of the building

The idea of representing the importance of Venetian canals, which I see as the veins that connect the different parts of Venice together, led me to explore ways of linking various spaces in my design together, through channels of water. I thought about how I can use this theory to connect the Remembrance Chapel and the reflection pods to the rest of the site. Fig x shows how this could be implemented. 21

“This is the only work I go to look at with pleasure, because I feel I have captured the sense of the countryside, in the way the Brions wanted. Everyone is very happy to go there – the children play, the dogs run around – all cemeteries should be like this.”12 22

~ Carlo Scarpa

Fig. 11

Celebrating the journey As far as the eye can see

Scarpa described Tomba Brion as “a place to visit the dead without the shoeboxes of a village cemetery.”13 By designing an arrangement of spaces that play with different views and paths that are hospitable, he has created a new vision of cemeteries – one that celebrates life. Scarpa skilfully played with views to indicate the function of the corresponding spaces. For example, the entrance hall leads onto two routes. On one hand, the privacy of the meditation pavilion to the right is reflected within its narrow and dark corridor with a view that is hazy (fig. 12). The route to the left , however, is welcoming and the view to the lawn is clear and beckoning (fig 13).

Robert McCarter and Carlo Scarpa, Carlo Scarpa (London: Phaidon Press, 2013), p. 270 13 Scarpa - A Documentary, 2018 <https://www.> [Accessed 18 April 2018].

Fig. 12


Fig. 13 23



11 3

2 1




1. Propylaea 2. Entrance Hall 3. Spring of water 4. Arcosolium and Sarcophogi 5. Parentâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Chapel 6. Public Chapel 7. Small water pool 8. Cypress garden 9. Tomb of Carlo Scarpa 10. Large pool 11. Pavilion 12. Access from the road 13. Boundary wall 14. Access from avenue

6 13



public private

12 14

fig. 14 Plan of Tomba Brion


Although my private spaces are indicated using a different material composition, I have played with views in my design to reflect the spaces that are part of the main funeral process and those that are for visitors to wander through at their own pace:

visitors are able to see all the way through to the lagoon indicating that this is a space that is accessible. The lagoon draws visitors in.

Fig. 15 - authors plan

Viewing of funeral procession: Mourners can view the boat carrying the casket as it travels down the canal

The Chapel is not directly visible upon arrival showing that these spaces require an â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;invitationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; and staff approval after confirming a funeral service.

fig. 16 NOT TO SCALE - sketch of how thresholds and views can lead visitors through the building


He also uses openings and thresholds to connect different spaces together:

Fig. 17

gif. 18 The pavilion has a cut out that allows visitors to get a view of the town.

Fig. 19

fig. 20 Visitors to the Remembrance Chapel can see a view all the way to the lagoon through strategically placed glazed slits in the wall. This maintains the Chapelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s seclusion but allows it to be integrated within the site.


Tomba brion is approached â&#x20AC;&#x153;along the traditional, cypress-lined avenue you find in all Italian cemeteriesâ&#x20AC;?14 (fig. 21). In the same way I have lined the canal, through which the boat holding the casket will approach the building, with cypress trees to indicate the beginning of a sacred site (fig. 22)

fig. 21 Cypress-lined entrance to Tomba Brion

fig 22 Mourners waiting in the waiting room have a direct view of the boat procession which enhances the ritual of carrying the casket around Venetian Canals

Robert McCarter and Carlo Scarpa, Carlo Scarpa (London: Phaidon Press, 2013), p. 242 12


“Carlo Scarpa’s Cemetery For Brionvega Boss | Architecture | Agenda | Phaidon”, Phaidon < architecture/articles/2013/december/23/carlo-scarpas-cemetery-for-brionvega-boss/> [Accessed 18 April 2018]. 13 Robert McCarter, Carlo Scarpa, p.4 12

Fig. 23



the ritual behind key moments

Scarpa believed that every small detail was important in conveying the narrative of a site and at Tomba Brion he “created a place that was not only a fitting memorial but in its deployment of light, form and space, also a place for living to engage in contemplation.”13 This section analyses two key details that are intrinsic to the rituals he wanted to highlight.

“the detail – that condensation of the boundless whole into the precise part, the articulate joint, were fundamental to Scarpa’s work.”14


Fig. 24


The holy water font Scarpa understood the significance of water in Catholic beliefs and designed the font to reflect its ceremonial context. At first glance, it is unnoticeable and very different from the traditional design of most fonts. But as you get closer, you can see that the customary watercontaining bowl is embedded within a larger marble structure, with Scarpaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s classic motif, the intersecting double circles, fashioned as an opening. However, what it most unusual here is the sliding, brass lever that allows this opening to be closed â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a detail that seems incredibly advanced for its time. By including this within the design, Scarpa is inviting visitors to become a part of the narrative and contemplate its significance. Like much of Scarpaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work, it encompasses traditional culture within a contemporary exterior.

Fig. 25


The glass gate and pulley system Aside from the confining atmosphere of the hallway leading to the meditation pavilion, described earlier, Scarpa designed a pulleycontrolled glass gate to act as a barrier for the forbidden space beyond (fig. 26). In order to pass, one must tug on a chain that sets off a reaction allowing the gate to lower into a water-filled shaft in the ground. Standing here, the elaborate mechanical system is hidden from view but the sound of the squeaking counterweights as they turn indicates the complexity of the seemingly simple glass gate. However, on the other side of the wall, the pulley system is entirely visible and visitors are able to witness the clever device at work (fig.27). With this, Scarpa has created an indirect connection between people in different areas of the site, with some witnessing the action and others, the reaction. The delicate pulley system triggering movement of the heavy gate is evocative of overcoming the hardships of life and once past the gate, one is able to reflect on this in the pavilion.

Fig. 27

Fig. 26


Inspired by Scarpaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s mechanisms, I have designed a pulley-system for the farewell chapel, which provides the setting for the concluding ritual before the family places the urn into the ground and is thus, the penultimate step in mourners achieving closure. The diagrams explains the narrative behind the design:

Fig. 28 Diagram of boat journey through site - 1:1000

(3) Boat stops under the Farewell chapel and (boat person) places urn onto platform that is lifted into the chapel.

(2) Boat collects urn from the Depository - where the ashes are placed inside the biodegradable urn


(1) Boat arrives at site and casket is carried down the canal to where loved ones are waiting

Fig. 29 - sketch showing pulley system at work (not to scale)

After collecting the urn from the depository, the boat travels down the canal and stops directly underneath the Farewell Chapel. The Gondolier places the urn onto a base that is lifted into the chapel via a pulley system. This is something that the family can participate in - as the urn is liften upwards, the action is evocative of the family giving their blessing for their loved one to go up to heaven and provides an opportunity for finality and closure.


Conclusion Looking at Scarpaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s designs I have learnt how to propose new ideas that respect old traditions as well as approaching the design of the site at a variety of scales. His details and use of unconventional materials such as water have been critical in inspiring my own explorations into how the rituals in funerals can be evoked and enhanced through architecture. Essentially, I want my building to provide hope to local Venetians for the future of their island, while paying tribute to their long-standing tradition and culture, in the form of radical new processes for dealing with death. The hope is that, even though it is a crematorium, the site will become a metaphor for the resilience of Venice with each death playing a role in regenerating the land or protecting the lagoon. Thus an architecture that embodies this hope is essential.


Image references Cover page - 1 - Author 2 - Author 3 - Author 4 - Author 5 - Author 6 - Author 7 - Author 8 - Hannah McAvoy, Case Study Querini Stampalia, 2018 9 - 10 - Author 11 -,scarpa/Interesting 12 - Pablo Wheldon, November 2017 13 14 - Robert McCarter, Carlo Scarpa (edited by author0 15 - Author 16 -Author 17 - Pablo Wheldon, November 2017 18 - famous-italian-architects 19 - Pablo Wheldon, November 2017 20 - Author 21 - Google maps 22 - Author 23 - Robert McCarter, Carlo Scarpa 24 - Robert McCarter, Carlo Scarpa 25 - Robert McCarter, Carlo Scarpa 26 - 27 - Pablo Wheldon, November 2017 28 - Author 29 - Author


Bibliography “Bible Gateway Passage: John 3:5 - Revised Standard Version”, Bible Gateway< “Carlo Scarpa’s Cemetery For Brionvega Boss | Architecture | Agenda | Phaidon”, Phaidon <> [Accessed 18 April 2018]. Charles Willard Moore, Water And Architecture (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1997) Grainger, Hilary J., Death Redesigned; British Crematoria: History, Architecture, and Landscape. (Reading: Spire Books Ltd. in association with The Cremation Society of Great Britain. 2005) “Instruction Ad Resurgendum Cum Christo Regarding The Burial Of The Deceasedand The Conservation Of The Ashes In The Case Of Cremation”, Vatican.Va, 2016 Philip Bold, 2008 Catholic Doctrine and Discipline Simply Explained ISBN 1-40978610-2 ”Symbols In The Funeral Mass”, Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, 2018 <> Robert McCarter and Carlo Scarpa, Carlo Scarpa (London: Phaidon Press, 2013) Scarpa - A Documentary, 2018 <> [Accessed 18 April 2018]. Tanya Haldipur, Technology report Arc3013 2018


Designing for death in Venice - short essay accompanying graduation project  
Designing for death in Venice - short essay accompanying graduation project