The Secret Garden / Tomas Ghisellini Architects

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

Architects: Tomas Ghisellini Architects
Location: (Lodi),
Project Year: 2012
Photographs: Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

Project Area: 1,175 sqm
Structures: Beatrice Bergamini
Technological Systems: Nicola Gallini
Landscaping: Tomas Ghisellini
Collaborators: Cristina Haumann, Michele Marchi, Alice Marzola
Client: Municipality of Tavazzano con Villavesco

The expansion of the cemetery in Tavazzano con Villavesco experiences a new relationship between the city of the living and the places of the dead, creating a novel and interesting link between landscape and funerary architecture. The project actively builds the atmosphere of a park-cemetery, where all the individualistic exaggerations, typically connected to traditional Latin models, are replaced by a widespread, gentle, someway “domestic” monumentality.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

As an alternative to the traditional densified urban cemetery, the proposal draws an intense green space, a place of scarcity, a kind of precious garden where plant species dispense colors and scents throughout the year. Here, the project develops an unconventional image of graveyard, a bright, clear, mild and suspended space. Lightness is proper, first of all, to the limit. Completely reversing the traditional typological settlements based on a dense and unbroken building construction along the edge of the fence, the border, threshold of demarcation between sacred ground and rural scenario abandons any mass opacity to become a pervious diaphragm, not to people but to natural elements. A three meters high wall made of exposed brick is for its 70% cut by a tunnel-pattern citing the pure and essential language of Lodi rural constructions and giving to the limit an unusual transparency. The wall, just like a lace, is crossed by light and breezes; the eye of the visitor is free to cross the border, to get lost in the expanse of fields and to savor the beauty of horizon.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

Enclosed within this new porous fence, the buildings of the historic cemetery and the constructions of former enlargements, the space of the new intervention is designed as if it were a large sculpture garden. The architectural bodies, simple and rigorous, are made not to distract, not to diminish the individual reflection and meditation. They derive their beauty from having nothing superfluous and seem to simply lean on the green fields without engraving them.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

The buildings, freely arranged according to an elementary compositional scheme, move away from the border and are disposed by a mutual slippage used as a space allocation expedient. The garden, divided by long parallel architectural scenes, holds a perceptually complex scenario, interesting, changing, always different at each step. The three buildings, just as the border wall, push their design vocabulary to the terms of an apparent immateriality: an uninterrupted porch, defined by a giant order of slender pillars over five meters high, prepares a charming covered space where the volumes for the accommodation of niches lay just as moving fragments. The stereometric architectural blocks host at their ends the fountains for water supply and the technical rooms for cleaning and maintenance tools storage.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

A different character is shown instead by the five family chapels; these ones, in the recovery of the former south side, approach the backs of the votive constructions already settled along the north-west margin of the historic cemetery. These brand new prismatic volumes, entirely clad in natural travertine, take an apparent monolithic substance.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

Only two openings are placed along the perimeter walls: the entrance to the prayer room, framed by a metal portal that draws in the stone surface a kind of symbolic passage, and a big holing, driven up by an impressive one-pitch highly inclined roof, launches in search of the atmosphere. The small independent buildings open their windows straight to the sky, looking east, capturing the gentle sun in the morning and shaping a full of light, vibrant and intensely emotional space.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

The placement of the buildings and the interaction of the architectural bodies with the porous border define a variety of interesting spaces-in-between, enclosed and intimate rooms where visitors can choose to deepen their meditation or just relax for a few minutes sitting on a stone bench. The green carpet, where thin cypress trees are planted in really dense masses designing not permanent vegetal “chapels”, is divided into five color gardens, each of them characterized by the color of trees and shrubs that live there. From the west, the light blue, the white, the pink, the red and the yellow garden are put together in a fascinating micro-landscapes series.

Courtesy of Tomas Ghisellini Architects

Hardy plant species, all native or naturalized, are specially selected to ensure the cemetery the color of at least one flowering for each month of the year and to minimize the load on maintenance. Only one tree species has deciduous leaves while the rest keep evergreen foliage, the chosen shrubs are commonly considered as belonging to the most resistant and easily adaptable species as well as longer and constant annual flowering.


The footpaths that branch off from the two existing entrances are protected by a continuous canopy designed to produce on the whole a minimal visual impact. The coverage, completely independent from the architectural bodies of the buildings, derives from these an extreme formal rigor and simplicity of composition. The result is a system made of thin vertical elements supporting a light horizontal plane that draws a continuous covered walkway wide enough to repair the funeral processions. The positioning of the supports along an only side allows cover to maintain a complete opening towards the gardens. A protected path hugs the municipal chapel setting up in its immediate vicinity a gathering space usable to attend liturgical celebrations even in case of bad weather. The association of shelters and arcaded buildings generates a continuous “loop” of protected trails that allow visitors to experience the cemetery even in case of adverse weather conditions.


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Cite: "The Secret Garden / Tomas Ghisellini Architects" 19 Sep 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>
  • mark

    there’s something moving in this silent and poetic architecture

  • Sally

    Seems a small intimate village, beautiful!