05 Oct 2020 •
Shortlisted - Governmental Interior of the Year
Crematorium Siesegem, located in the countryside of Aalst (Belgium), with its footprint of 74x74 metres, merges with the surrounding park, which was conceived by landscape architect Erik Dhont. A sense of calm pervades the site and upon arrival visitors are subtly persuaded to slow down.
To the north, a pond serves as a reservoir for rainwater, while small adjacent hills are dedicated to scattered ashes and to an urn garden. At the eastern end, a service road for the hearses is hidden from view so that privacy of the families is respected. The south-western corner of the building opens onto a patio and serves as a transitional zone, welcoming visitors and leading them inwards.
In Belgium, crematoria traditionally have a more complex program. They are spaces for gathering, having a meal and reconnecting with relatives and friends. The client’s significant experience and dialogue were crucial to the project. The design with legible spaces and easily readable routing has reduced signage to a minimum. Visitors should never feel lost, and architecture goes beyond being a mere background, to offer spatial guidance.
The interior speaks to visitors: it instils calmness and the sequence of spaces enhances reflection. At 6.4 metres tall, the remarkable floor-to-ceiling height of the interior enhances the sense of vastness, paired by the abundance of daylight. The reception hall is infused with light by two large windows overlooking a landscaped garden, and houses a discreet passageway to the cafeteria, which features a large-scale painting by Belgian artist Rinus Van de Velde. Crematorium Siesegem encompasses two ceremonial assembly halls.
The largest has generous dimensions, with seating for 600 people. The benches, elegantly shaped with leather upholstery, have a yellow-beige colour, a recurrent hue for the Crematorium spaces chosen for its gentle texture and direct reference to sand and dust. The back surface is glazed and looks out onto a patio, directly connecting the building to the surrounding landscape. Both assembly spaces have a family room and a place for condolences. Next to the ceremony spaces, the technical aspects of the building are also a fundamental part of the design.
The endeavour is to disclose, rather than hide the cremation process, which results is an unusual yet effective polarity between the mechanics and the serenity. The soft sandy yellow colour of the furniture is echoed by the ovens and chimney. A sense of dignity and intimacy infuses the building.
The Crematorium Siesegem is an ode to verticality, while being horizontal and pure in its geometry and balanced proportions. Its calm, easily readable environment and tranquil landscape merge together to emanate genuine serenity. The building and its surrounding grounds are a peaceful oasis for reminiscence.