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Design for a vertical cemetery in Tokyo could help solve space issues in cities

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City of Light and Dark, a concept for a new

A place to reflect upon those who are no longer alive, and to contemplate the very nature of life and death

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Architect: Hindley & Co
Photographer: Anne Hindley

About the project: City of Light and Dark is a competition entry that was selected as a Top 50 finalist from 460 international proposals for the Death and the City: Tokyo Vertical Cemetery ideas Competition (2016), run by competition organiser Arch Out Loud. .

In the centre of fast paced, high energy Tokyo, City of Light and Dark is a place to reflect upon those who are no longer alive, and to contemplate the very nature of life and death. Attention is drawn to the ever-changing flux between light and dark, night and day, someone and everyone, individual existence and universal consciousness, matter and energy, personal space and the city, artificial and natural, and air, light, water and earth.

During the day, the onlooker’s first glimpse of the vertical cemetery is of a low lying, glowing object which appears to hover just above the surface of the city streets, something like an iceberg of which only the tip is visible. Crowds of people can be seen swarming down stairs from the busy crossing and disappearing below view. This is all intended to lure and intrigue.

The eye is then drawn up a lustrous black tower to a rooftop terrarium, a tiny oasis floating in a bubble in the middle of the madness of Tokyo. The tower’s coloured slot windows allude to the vertical neon signage in the neighbouring streets, as well as to the stained glass which is used traditionally to enlighten the spirit.

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At night, powerful beams of light are seen emanating from the building, projected high onto clouds and beyond, and visible for kilometres around. They begin as individual beams, but merge to one as they approach their vanishing point in the heavens, metaphorically suggesting that this might be what happens to our own energies after death.

Entering the complex, one can visit the Columbarium - a 32m high cylinder containing 15,000 cremation niches. During the day, light streams down the shaft, alluding to the idea that a bright light at the end of a tunnel may be seen at the moment of death, according to reports of people who have died and been revived.

Thousands of images line the wall of the shaft, each one placed at the back of an individual cremation niche. The image might be a photo of the deceased, a favourite movie star, an anime character or whatever else represents the person. They are seen en masse when looking up from the bottom. They appear to merge as the eye loses focus on the individual and starts to see the whole. The sky is framed at the top of the shaft, highlighting the infinite boundless quality of the sky.

After a climb to the top of the Spiral staircase around the shaft, one arrives at a reflection pool where one can sit and rest. Musical humming, chanting sounds will be audible while climbing the stairs, increasing in volume as the top is reached. Sitting on the bench one will be bathed in the sound that again, is designed to enhance the feeling of enlightenment and transcendence. They merge with the sounds of our own breath and the city background noise as we gaze upon the eye level water or at night, the light beams from below.

Reflection spaces are provided for both group and individual occupation. They are designed to reduce and de-clutter the overladen sensory information of the City, in order to intensify the experience of our inner world. The spaces are quiet and austere.

The lower reflection spaces are underground. The light is so dim that upon entering the room it is not possible to see anything at all. You must feel your way to the central bench seat. As your eyes adjust, over five or ten minutes, a pinpoint of light starts to become visible. It appears to get closer as your pupils dilate. This is intended to blur our awareness of the boundaries between our inner self and the outer world, as well as giving a sense of moving towards a light.

The higher reflection spaces both reduce and amplify our senses, by stripping back all sensory information except for one intense colour. This experience focuses all our attention on one thing, the colour. This focus on one thing is a meditative technique, and the experience of intense coloured light seems induce emotion. A simple, coloured, slot window to the outside world is provided, again both reducing and intensifying the view, and as a way to maintain a distant awareness of our situation and location in the universe.

The link between each level of the Columbarium and the Tower takes the form of a processional walk through a series of chambers, which are lit with increasing intensity to become lighter and lighter as the outside world is approached. Upon entering the Main Columbarium, a sudden intense shaft of light is experienced. The “aaaaah“ moment.

It is intended that upon exit, the City and our place in it has been reframed a little by the shift that has taken place in our inner world.

First published date: 02 November 2017

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