LocationPinoso, Alicante, Spain
ClientAyuntamiento de Pinoso
Budget595.580 € (PEC)
“The fear of death is nothing other than considering oneself wise without being so, because it is believing to know about that which we don’t know. Maybe death is the greatest blessing for human beings, no one knows, and yet everyone is afraid as if they knew with absolute certainty that it is the worst of evils.”
(Socrates, 470-399 BC)
Historically, we find different definitions of death that demonstrate to us how this concept has moved from places closer to darkness, pain, and fear, to positions linked with the concept of sadness, change, and light.
Designing a building where one will live possibly the most unknown phase of human existence necessarily involves the assumption of uncertainty as a concept to be included in the design process.
We understand this building as a place that will resist being forgotten, staying in the retina of its users, and therefore a place where the sensitive has to be controlled. Parameters like sound, temperature, light, humidity, lighting, privacy, and the relationship with nature take great importance.
The lot is located outside the village, at the end of a cul-de-sac, attached to the municipal sports center and behind a cultural center, both with great activity. This situation generates some urban tension, because the building is located between various incompatible activities. In this situation, we propose to lay out the building generating a vegetal buffer with sufficient identity to establish itself as ‘center’ of all these public buildings and activities. We created a dense forest of 29 Japanese maples, capable of articulating, differentiating and limiting the various uses.
Additionally, the building is sunken in the back, and like a cave, its main facade juts forward. The green roofs and their vegetal composition exactly the same as the ground emphasize this. This denies any direct views from the adjacent sports tracks, used daily by the municipal sports schools. It is for this reason that the building is set around five courtyards that allow a controlled relationship with the exterior. From inside the halls, only the interiors and the sky are visible.
Formally, the building is broken through a virtual structure of beams and cantilevers, freeing the limits and joints of any structural element. From a far distance, the building is perceived as a mass buried among trees, from a nearer distance, nuances appear that allow one to perceive the instability of the construction – something looking to soothe and displace the user, slowing its access – In its interior, the space is appreciated thin and subtle.
Contrasting ‘the fragile’, identifiable in this project not as an accident but rather as an encounter evoked within, is the formal and material strength of its exterior. The project seeks to slow down the speed with which we live through the confrontation of these two contrasting situations: a light and weightless interior against a blunt and heavy exterior.
The interior-exterior permeability becomes very important in this new place for the people.
Access is twofold: the main access is linked to the reception and cafeteria, as well as the management offices and common uses of the funeral home, located on the front garden, at the limit of the building, without any recess or break to allow the user a reading of the access. It is not signaled. The aim, again, is to displace the user in their relationship with the building. This is, traditionally, a place of family and friendly gatherings, which not only shows affection and respect for the deceased, but also, in many cases, people who had not seen each other in a long time can meet. In this situation, we intend for encounters to happen in the exterior garden and for the access to be collective, which we believe is emotionally interesting for two reasons: the first, greetings and noise can take place outside (the funeral home is a small building under 500 m2); and the second, facing an individual experience of depression, a group normally expresses feelings and emotions of support.
The organization in plan responds to a 5-level privacy diagram from the most public to the private: at level 1, the most public, is the access hall, reception, cafeteria, offices and restrooms; at level 2, is the large waiting area that leads to the chapel, and is also where the secondary exit is located; this area leads to level 3, the waiting room for each of the wake rooms; at level 4, of great importance because it is not superficial but material, is an access area to each room where all the walls are made of beech wood, lighted differently, it is the narrowest space of the building, attempting to set a limit and imply that it is an access to a quiet area; the level 5 is the wake room, which can be configured in various ways according to the amount of public or personal decision, the entire room is conditioned acoustically so that the sound pressure levels do not exceed 35dB.
Each room has a direct relationship with the exterior through one of the courtyards. Each courtyard is at a different level, which causes different views and feelings from the interior of each room. The glass walls from floor to ceiling of the courtyards are set in three different positions, below the ground level, at ground level, and 80cm above ground level. When one enters a half buried building, the perception of the exterior is different, but we believe that it is more interesting to be inside not knowing how deep underground the room is. Also, the courtyards are attached to two volumes that emerge above the green roofs, which increase this feeling. These volumes are the chapel and the area for air conditioning facilities.
The chapel uses in its design the concepts of scale, color, sound and lighting in a very specific order with the intention of generating an environment of ‘de-contextualization of the everyday’ that allows the user, in a way, to evade the secondary and the mundane, to be able to reflect on the important. The chapel is accessed from a large and heavy door, at the same time fragile and unstable, ‘it is the door from a different place’, to pull that door and enter is an unknown experience to the user. This door is part of the spatial boundary of the chapel, lit by the upper windows cracked open and conditioned with great acoustic absorption, a place where silence is heard and where the light marks time.
The chapel has two functions: one is for a group, such as funeral rites, and another is personal and unique, as is the personal recollection. Architecturally, the only difference proposed is the type of artificial lighting. In the case of holding a ritual, lighting fixtures 50cm from the ground are activated, as well as fixtures in the altar area, generating a weightless space where light is below the knees; whereas for the personal recollection, no lighting fixture is activated, and the space is lit from external beacons in the adjacent courtyard, a light that illuminates the ceiling, stretching the space upwards.
For a decade, this small town in Alicante is the residence of immigrants from different cultures and traditions. This situation is increasingly present and real, in this case more than 10% of the population are international immigrants. In addition, beliefs and customs are updated and changed, and even people who share beliefs sees, understands, and lives death differently. Therefore, this funeral home will be used by people of different beliefs and traditions. This apparently circumstantial fact is especially important when designing the spaces and internal circulations. The relationship with death is increasingly different and personal, and this building, architecturally speaking, must be able to address most of these situations.
Although the organization is thought through and defined, it works on several levels of uncertainty and adaptability. This generates complex and diffuse interior views.
We must not forget the effort behind this collective enterprise. The project has a budget of 431.583 €, which involves a considerable effort to find technical building solutions, systems to reduce maintenance costs, and maximum degree of ecological adaptation in terms of landscape and sustainability. This is an intervention that gives more for less.
We have not developed a formal discourse, or a discourse of style, of technique or iconic… we have only worked the project slowly without losing sight of each assessment described above, with particular emphasis in not dissolving them in disciplinary conversations, constantly rescuing them and giving them value.
The emotional is one more factor of study and design. Assuming high degrees of uncertainty and defining the limits of behaviorism, we believe that this may be one of the most attractive study concepts in future projects.