The right to be dead

Designing Future Cemeteries

Authored by: Jakob Borrits Sabra , John Troyer

The Routledge Handbook of Death and the Afterlife

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138682160
eBook ISBN: 9781315545349
Adobe ISBN:


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‘We all know death is in the future. We just want to make the future more visible.’ That is the central design ethos for the Future Cemetery Project ( in Bristol, England. Based at Arnos Vale Cemetery, the Future Cemetery is a partnership between the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath, Calling the Shots Media, and Arnos Vale. The collaboration began in March 2012 as part of a UK funded Arts and Humanities Research Council program called REACT. In over 175 years of operation, Bristol’s Arnos Vale Cemetery has handled approximately 300,000 deceased individuals (roughly one-third the population of Bristol city), either through burial or cremation. It remains a working cemetery that covers 45 acres near the city center and in June 2012 the Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust signed a new 125-year lease with the city of Bristol. Since its founding, the Future Cemetery has explicitly explored and complicated the concept of ‘designing for death’ by following one simple principle: never attempt to control death through design. Death will win. Death always wins. More importantly design with time in mind, e.g. designing 125-year technology and sustainability plans that outlive the creators. Our chapter argues that designing Future Cemeteries should focus on how spaces such as Arnos Vale represent a transitional hybrid space. A merger of the Victorian past with the digital present, in order to create a new kind of archival future. Future Cemeteries will ultimately become spaces where both dead humans and dead data are stored. The irony, of course, is that given current design conditions and limitations in thinking, Arnos Vale’s granite headstones will remain in situ long after today’s ‘internet’ has turned to dust.

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