The disassociation of death from the heart of the urban fabric has led to a destruction of a layer of history and consciousness, as if we were reluctant to address death as the inevitable consequence of life. Because death seems to have no place in the modern city, this projects aims to question the possible relationship there can be between the houses of the living and the houses of the dead. How can there be a deliberate presence of death in today’s urban setting?
House vs Tombstone
The primary purpose of a house is to give shelter. The primary function of a tomb is to demonstrate the continuing existence of the dead in the minds of the living. The architecture of death, just like the process of casting, are negative worlds. House is out of place because it does not establish a direct dialogue with its immediate surroundings. It is strongly connected to it however: it is the negative, the opposite.
Death pushed out of the city
In our cities, we have specific places allocated to death, clearly marked areas reserved to burials. The churchyard used to be at the heart of the settlement, now corpses are buried far away from the city centre, the cemetery is usually on a ring-road or by-pass, accessible only by car. Death has been torn out of the city and a significant part of the city has died as a result.
“I find the piece interesting, but it’s in the wrong place”
Those were the words of theater producer Robert Warner about Rachel Whiteread’s cast of the interior of a Victorian house, House. This kind of structure is usually found in cemeteries, and therefore yes, on could argue it is very much in the wrong place. The solid, cold and closed skin of House strongly reminds us of death, of something doomed to stay in the past. Because of its appearance, both its shape and the mass and colour of its material, the piece resembles a tombstones or a mausoleum. If so many people hated the piece and asked for its demolition, it is because they found it too creepy to wake up in the morning and open their blinds to the view of a one to one dead house, to be simply walking in the street and encountering a gigantic tombstone, a reminder that we, and everything else, comes to an end.
The houses of the dead are in fact more permanent than the houses of the living, and in history the necropolis was a fundamental adjunct to the metropolis. The necropolis was a boundary zone outside the city that became an impenetrable barrier; the dead acted as reinforcement of city walls. The ghosts of the dead inhabited the necropolis as much as the living inhabited their cities.
The necropolis is a celebration of absence. Death is physically present and yet missing, the architecture of these cities of ghosts echoes this paradox, tending towards the archetypal dwelling and the opulence of the monument for which occupants can have no use.