2015 | Guardo (Palencia)

We are located in a small cemetery dating back to the 60s, made like so many others of this time, with a symmetrical arrangement around an axial shaft, in whose perimeter, nowadays, niches have accumulated, as varied as the graves scattered around the burial ground. In this manner, wherever we look, the eye encounters death, but not in a symbolic way, nor transcendent, nor less beautiful, but with a much more anecdotal residue of it, the funeral paraphernalia that usually gives a good account of the deceased’s religion and of his loved one´s taste, stories that pervade and impregnate the current space, and without any other organization than colonization of space based on rationality, has finally fulfilled the space in this cemetery, transforming a space where values such as reflection or transcendence should prevail, into a lonely and sometimes grim place.

The intervention aims to make an extension where the identified deficiencies are corrected, providing the newly created space with the necessary solemnity and beauty, where in addition to creating a location for the dead to rest, it enables the coexistence of different funeral cultures (denominational within different religions and nondenominational) with the sufficient privacy, without imposing upon others. A space, which invites visits and dignifies a place where diverse feelings and different beliefs flourish, and where users can reconnect with the memory of their loved ones in the most favorable environment.

In essence, the intervention was conceived as a linear garden that is joined to the existing cemetery. Such a garden is thought of as a “Hortus Conclusus” a place for contemplation and reflection, a space to be wandered around and observed, and where nature plays the leading role.

Regarding the layout distribution, it is structured similarly to a bar code, that is to say, the garden consists of themed bars of different widths but identical lengths. The bars are composed primarily of pedestrian routes alternated with grass mounds of a specific height, topped by rows of birch trees. These green areas outline some passageways that are somewhat intimate, where different available burial areas are located, as well as the non-denominational burial area. The woodland provides this sense of intimacy because in the longitudinal direction of the path various passageways are framed by it, and it also operates transversely as a filter, as if it were a forest of needles, in addition to providing color to the whole chromatic richness throughout the seasons.

In this intervention another type of use or ”bar” can be seen, there is a pond near the western boundary in order to respond to the need of those who wish to scatter the ashes of their deceased and a low-lying space near the border.  This is where the higher density burial area is located, comprising of 300 niche units and 55 columbariums. These elements; water, earth and sky (framed from the low-lying level), symbolize and summarize the elements of nature that are most widely related to funeral customs.

The whole ensemble is completed with a service building and a center of slow communication that enables communication between the general and low-lying level. These uses are skillfully arranged in a space that liberates the surroundings from our role in cemetery proceedings. It is a space “between walls” which has the dual purpose of hiding the service areas while underlining the contrast between the new and the old, showing a physical separation, although apparent, between the two.

Finally, these surroundings, as if they had an ”animated” element, not only solve the problem of communication between the two spaces, but also provides the route for enlargement. This is provided by the introduction of this new “entity” into the existing cemetery, passing the wall that tops the tower located on the northern boundary, and inviting the viewer to extend the axial walk along the path taken to enter the cemetery at the beginning, although a very different experience awaits after crossing this new threshold.

Regarding the material elements, we set out to perform the intervention using the smallest quantity of material possible, within those, concrete and vegetation were used most. This decision is made with the dual aim of achieving a homogeneous and neutral environment which helps to emphasize serenity, and also for economic reasons.

Reinforced concrete is used in all the tectonic elements of the proposal. All major vertical walls (perimeter fence, walls and facades) are made out of reinforced concrete, finished with lengths of wood in an upright position. A simple finish that arouses in the viewer the feeling that these elements “emerge” from the ground, to which they always belonged. On the other hand, the horizontal surfaces are set with slabs (in the service building) or with polished concrete flagstones around the intervention´s pedestrian or mixed path.  In the latter, they are alternated with open joints, where grass will grow.

Regarding the proposed vegetation, there are only two types, lawn areas in the mounds that separate the burial areas on the surface and the woodland, made up of rows of birches. It is a tree native to Palencia, of little or no maintenance, and which is well suited for the cold and wet weather in the area, it is of great ornamental value due to its silver bark and the color its foliage acquires during the fall, in addition to its symbolic meaning related to death in different cultures and religions (in Christianity it symbolizes entry into paradise).

Department: Architectural Services

Title: Cemetery Extension of Guardo

Location: Guardo, Palencia

Year: 2015

Area: 4.345,70 m2

Budget: 200.000 euros

Client: Guardo City Council

Type: Competition

Status: Design | 2nd Prize


Project Architect: José Antonio Cantó Hidalgo