This semester I’m taking a studio with John Ronan from John Ronan Architects. We’re designing a cemetery and chapel for the unclaimed dead of Chicago. As I was working through some site strategies in the early part of the design process, I realized how much my design process is dependent upon questioning myself. I explore my ideas through drawing perspectives, elevations, plans and sections, and then writing down questions. Through this sequence, you can track how my ideas develop. It also allows me to go back, later in the process, and see if I have addressed all my questions with my new solution.

I thought it would be interesting to write out my list of questions from tonight.cemetery-processsketch1

How do we reclaim and assert the precious value of the unclaimed?

What is reclamation?
1. act or process of reclaiming; 2. a restoration as to productivity, usefulness, or morality; 3. conversion of wasteland into land suitable for cultivation; 4. recovery of useful substances from waste products; 5. save, rescue, redeemfrom Latin “reclamare”: cry out against–re “back” + clamare “to shout”

Who reclaims?
1. by nature; 2. by society; or 3. by each other

Who notices the reclamation?
1. the dead; 2. the community; or 3. the families

How to show the passage of time?1. it has always been there (permanence); 2. it grew to be there (growth); or 3. it passed away (decay)

What if you combine permanence and growth? renewal

Why is there a chapel?
1. to inhabit, for prayers; 2. to look at, memorial

Who uses the chapel?1. only the priest; 2. community/family; 3. no one, it’s a memorial

What to do with bodies?

What to do with ashes?

Do we keep a record of who these people are? how?

Who comes here? Where do they go? Why are they here?cemetery-processsketch2

How does it fill up? is it full at the beginning and additions are unseen? Can you track its process of filling? But then when happens once it’s full?

Is cremation/body preparation done on or off site?

Are there markers? What are they? What’s on them?

Why are the walls built? Where do the bodies go?


Constant renewal strategy: means that there will be layers, or the ability to layer in place without changing the general form or state.

What if the newspaper walls are the seating area around the trees?

Renewal of plot: bury in shrouds. By the time you move back to the first sector, they’ve been skeletons for 12 years

So what is built? new chapel every 5 years on next site? benches to contemplate? chapel from wood? What happens to the trees every 25 years?

maybe a new memorial to comemorate that set? Then the wood is used for the chapel? Cut down the trees to build the new chapel? Thematically, newspapers carry the news of their death

How/where do you bury bodies when the roots are in the way?

What if a doorway was sealed off each cycle so that the final one is closed forever? tomb?

What is my program? only burial and prayer space?

Are we still cutting down trees?

Graffiti moss of names on each sealed door? Not enough room?

Is each chapel the same? Or are there 5 designs? How often are bodies brought to be buried?