Ground-breaking Proposal for New Ecological Burial Forms

An innovative landscape intervention for a new ephemeral burial model based on nature.

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The Roques Blanques Metropolitan Cemetery, within the realm of Collserola’s Natural Park at El Papiol, Barcelona, has been developed over 30 years. Since its conception in 1981, the graveyard was conceived as a 122-hectare garden to be developed in different phases, reaching a current day total of seven built clusters. The site has since been able to adapt to changes in customer demands, proposing new burial paradigms and aiming to facilitate remembrance and family relationships with their deceased loved ones. Furthermore, mutual respect for the environment and nature has allowed Batlleiroig to propose a ground-breaking proposal for new ecological burial forms that are 100% biodegradable.

This intervention, based on respect for and conservation of the environment, involves the development of cluster number six, with a surface of 8600m². With its very pronounced orography of exemplary pines and holm oaks, it is ready to host 1500 new graves.

The challenge consisted of creating an accessible space for the practice of funeral rites that would preserve the environmental values of the site and contribute to the recovery of biodiversity characteristic of the natural park. The new cluster becomes an entry path to the forest, complemented by a green terrace, a meadow reflecting Collserola’s agricultural past and a butterfly garden as a retaining system to minimise the impact on the existing topography.

Building with nature

A vertical garden based on Krainer wall technology was proposed, an innovative system based on bioengineering applied to the landscape. As a natural retaining system, it generates a large green terrace, including a suitable and accessible space for new graves, allowing for the integration of existing trees and adding new local species. It is designed to be built quickly with natural materials from the immediate surroundings.

The technology combines dead and living materials, often called ‘live mesh’. It evolves over time, relating the degradation of dead elements (trunks) with the roots and the growth of living elements (shrubs and bushes). A natural dynamic evoking lifecycles; a concept intrinsic to the idiosyncrasy of a cemetery as a meeting point between people and their ancestors over time.

The Krainer wall has a length of 304.5m, a height of 1.5m, a base width of 2m and a further 1m of path. It is located on the inner slope of the garden terrace, releasing a large green meadow and viewpoint.

Building for nature

The Krainer wall is the most appropriate place for the ‘butterfly garden’, a new burial space hosting different species of vegetables that contribute to an aromatic environment and serving as a living space for a wide variety of pollinators, including butterflies. The wall has been designed to consider the importance of orientation and protection from the elements, including wind. The wall converts it into a protected and intensely-sunlit space, ensuring long and generous flower blooms all year long while sheltering the surrounding fauna. To foster the presence of butterflies, shrubs and herbaceous species with outstanding blooming qualities and bright, contrasted flowering have been selected. Native plants, adapted to local conditions, have been selected, referring to a typical Mediterranean thicket.

The ‘butterfly garden’ enhances biodiversity, revitalising the spaces of Collserola Natural Park, a learning resource in which to observe, identify and examine our environment’s insects and plants.

Nature-based solution

The design follows the ‘Cradle to Cradle’ principles, favouring a circular economy – a zero-carbon footprint intervention, generating no residue. Additionally, the project regenerates the existing forest and reactivates life in the natural park. This intervention has a very specific use and is suitable for a limited period of time – it is expected to have a useful ephemeral life of approximately 30 years, after which it will return to the original state of the forest. This period suits the purposes of mourning and remembrance while being built with dry construction, no water consumption and using natural and local materials exclusively.

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