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Sustainable by Design

Updated Tuesday, 22nd September 2009

Principal Architect Adrian Morrow explains the logic and sentiment behind designing a sustainable crematorium in Milton Keynes

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Adrian guides us through the spaces dramatically designed to enable the delivery of tailored services. He shares his personal experience of designing the building, using digital blueprints to help us explore the architecture.

The designs provided in this video are courtesy of the Milton Keynes Council with a special mention to Louisa Wan who produced the images.





There’s a need for a new crematorium in Milton Keynes because Milton Keynes is the fastest expanding city in the UK. We currently have a population of around 216,000 people, and the city is due to expand over the next twenty-five years or so to about 350,000. What I proposed, after a lot of thought about what was the appropriate type of building, was a very spiritual and tranquil design that was inspired by the Kimbell Art Museum, by the famous American architect, Louis Kahn, which is located in Fort Worth in Texas, and that became the concept and the inspiration for the whole project.

So, as a result of that, what we have is a building which is comprised of what I call serve spaces, which are located under a cycloid-shaped roof. These serve spaces, of which there are rows of three, have between them rows of flat roofed space which we call the servant spaces. This immediately set up a hierarchy of spaces in the building. You have the important spaces, such as the chapel, the waiting room, the staff accommodation and the committal room, the wreath course located under the cycloid roof. In between, we have the servant spaces such as stores, WCs, control rooms, audiovisual rooms, kitchenettes and such like located under the servant spaces.

The chapel itself has been designed with drama in mind, architectural drama if you’d like, and has a number of interesting details within it. For example, we have a cylindrical catafalque space at the far end of the chapel where the coffin will be standing during the service. This space is a cylinder which pokes its head up through the cycloid roof, and it will be top-lit so, on a day like today which is beautifully sunny, sunlight will pour into the top of that space and light the coffin. The chapel will be fitted with a state of the art audio-visual system.

Part of our clients’ need was to offer services of any different kind a person might desire, from the point of view of having a very traditional, tranquil service, just with very, perhaps, traditional, calm music playing and white lighting, to someone who might want the heavy metal funeral service with bright flashing lights, all these things are possible. In addition to that, we have two very large, flat audiovisual screens located each side of the catafalque so that either slides, still images or movies can be shown during the course of the service or part of it.

Another space that came out of the briefing process was what we call the sanctuary. The sanctuary is like an antechapel to the side of the main chapel. It became clear to me during the briefing process, as soon as I discovered that, on a weekly basis, new born babies pass away and funerals take place where there might just be a tiny coffin and the parents of the child. A small space was needed for such an event to take place. The sanctuary I’ve designed is another cylindrical space to the side of the chapel which again is top-lit and it is surrounded by water in the form of the lily pond. So in itself it’s a very tranquil space to have such a service of a very delicate nature.

On the opposite side of the chapel, there’s a silicone glass screen which runs the entire length of one side of the chapel itself, which allows a view straight out to what we call the Japanese garden. It’s a garden which is walled so that anyone circulating outside the building can’t affect the service inside the chapel. But the idea of this space was to give people a controlled view out of the chapel, somewhere to look in a moment of personal reflection during the course of the service.

Sustainability is very important as far as a crematorium and a cemetery go because burials literally are not sustainable. There is not enough land available in the country to just bury people, so cremation has to be considered as the most serious option. As far as the construction industry is concerned, sustainability is necessary so that building development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. As far as the new Crownhill crematorium goes, we’ve tried to make the building as sustainable as we possibly can. For example, in the selection of materials, pretty well all the materials we’re using are Green Guide A-rated. The only material that isn’t Green Guide A-rated is the concrete, but even then we’re making it as sustainable as we possibly can because it has a large content of pulverised fuel ash which is a recycled type of material.

In addition, to those features we’ve got insulation values in the building 20% better than building regs requirements. We’re looking at ventilating the building by means of intelligent, natural ventilation through the roof using a device known as a wind catcher. We have very high thermal mass because of the concrete construction of the building and this helps to regulate the temperatures throughout the course of the day, even on hot days like this. We’ll be using low energy lighting, using LEDs which provide a negligible heat output and have a very long life span of up to twenty-five to thirty years bulb life. Primarily though, one big feature is the heat recovery from the cremators that we’re using. Using heat pump technology, we’ll be reusing that heat to provide hot water for the building and heating throughout the colder months of the year.

In terms of other sustainable issues, we have what is known as a SUD system. SUD stands for sustainable urban drainage system. In the old days, rainwater was taken away from buildings as fast as possible through the use of concrete culverts. In this project, we’re taking the rainwater away from the building as slowly as we possibly can, using what we call SUDs ponds. This has an added advantage in that ponds are a beautiful feature which will enhance the site and will enhance the wildlife. The site has a population of great crested newts on it at the moment. We are mitigating these with the help of our ecologist. We need to carefully remove them from the site so that the building can actually be started, and that is currently being carried out.

What I hope people will take away from the new crematorium is the idea that the building has been a success. I hope it will be highly regarded as serving its purpose for the community. I also hope that people will appreciate the variety of opportunities available for personal reflection within the grounds. I hope most of all that the architecture will uplift the spirits of those who have visited the building on what is a very sombre occasion.

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