Remembering the dead is an issue that is rarely addressed, though it is an important part of our culture. Big city cemeteries, especially in northern Europe, provide our cities with green lungs, big parks in which nature, however anthropized to serve the citizenry, offers an opportunity to pause and reflect. This is the case in Barcelona, where Roques Blanques Metropolitan Cemetery, designed in 1981 as a 122-hectare garden for development in phases, reaching the current total of 7 built clusters, is set in Collserola Nature Park in El Papiol, north of Barcelona. With a 8,465-hectare surface area, the park is a true green oasis in one of the most densely populated parts of the Mediterranean coast.
Since the cemetery was designed, it has been adapted to changes in customer demands, offering new burial paradigms and facilitating remembrance of deceased loved ones.
The designers of multidisciplinary Catalonian studio Battleiroig developed cluster number 6 in the cemetery, measuring 8,600 square metres. Its pronounced orography dotted with pine trees and holm oaks is now ready to host 1,500 new graves. The challenge here was creating an accessible space for practicing funeral rites while preserving the site’s environmental value and contributing to the recovery of biodiversity characteristic of the Nature Park.
Battleiroig proposed a vertical garden based on “Krainer wall” technology, a natural retaining system in which a supporting wall is completely covered with greenery, built using dry wall construction techniques with natural materials from the immediate surroundings, without consuming any water. As the architects explain: “ The technology combines dead and living materials, often called ‘live mesh’. It evolves over time, relating the degradation of dead elements (trunks) with the roots and the growth of living elements (shrubs and bushes). A natural dynamic evoking the life cycle: a concept intrinsic to the idiosyncrasy of a cemetery as a meeting point between people and their ancestors over time.” Use of natural materials such as tree trunks and careful choice of plant species ensure that the Krainer wall becomes a living space for a great variety of pollinators, including butterflies.
The result is a green terrace following the shape of the land for more than 300 metres, including an accessible space for the new graves, permitting integration of the existing trees and addition of new local species.
Application of NBS, nature-based solutions, allows the Battleiroig project to apply the ‘Cradle to Cradle’ principles of the circular economy. The project has zero carbon impact, generates no residues, and is designed to have a “useful lifespan” of about 30 years, after which it will be incorporated into the natural setting of the Park. Thus the project regenerates the existing forest and reactivates the life cycle in the nature park. The landscaping and engineering project reinforces the natural setting while allowing people to remember their loved ones in conditions of pleasing harmony with human beings and their environment.