When MZA was approached to develop a concept for a Catholic columbarium, our first step was to commit research time on the history of cremation in the Catholic Church in order to understand what values are important to respect and support in the design of the columbarium.

Cremation has only been allowed in the church since 1963, so it is a relatively recent development. The chuch provides guidelines for the manner in which people can choose cremation and for how cremated remains should be treated. The values we found to be most critical in our design exploration was first the idea that cremated remains should be interred in a permanent sacred place. Second was the relationship between body and soul in Catholic teaching: cremation is interestingly not viewed as freeing your soul from your body because both are equally intrinsic to a person’s identity. For this reason, it is all the more important in their faith to have a dedicated resting place that honors that person’s dignity.

Additionally, the idea of honoring the relationships between the living and the dead is incredibly important. As we explored how this element might be materialized, we looked to precedents like Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial for ways that one can preserve memory, identity, and relationship in a built form. This might be incorporated in the identification of the niches, by providing a place to leave flowers or to light candles, or a meditative place to sit and visit with loved ones. We felt that the play of light, shadow, and reflection could be ultilized to support a reverent, meditative atmosphere. We were especially interested in the idea of light from above, which has a rich place both in the history of religious spaces as well as in modernity (for example, in some of James Turrell’s Skyspaces). Overall, our intent in this design exploration was to create a space that is sacred and meditative, honors the individual identities of those interred there, and preserves the relationships between them and those they love.