Guildford Borough Council
The concept for both building and landscape was influenced by the range of visitors to the existing Guildford Crematorium and the stages of grief which they experience as they move through and use the site. The flow of mourners, through these stages, was fundamental to the design response. Modern grieving practices incorporate informal and flexible internal arrangements, cater to a large spread of congregation numbers and demand non-denominational spaces in which to both grieve and celebrate life. The project, key to its main concept, also caters to those experiencing other stages of grief, including during the arrangement of a service, the potential to view the committal of the coffin, the collection of ashes following the ceremony and the (often life-long) return to site to visit memorials.
The building plan employs the device of courtyards to provide spaces for people to both congregate and reflect. Within the chapel, views to two protected, landscaped, courtyards providing visual relief, day lighting (and possible distraction) within a service. An exposed, highly engineered timber structure provides clean, functional decoration within the chapel and above the mourning party. Meanwhile, the catafalque and coffin sit under a lower canopy to provide intimacy. Both courtyards and internal spaces are wrapped by a brick wall, which sits low and close to the landscape. Using the walled garden typology, this wall obscures internal and external space to those viewing the building from the memorial gardens. Atop this folding wall, a concrete band sets a solid and continuous datum, from which spring two geometric volumes. The volumes, clad in dark metal, announce the two key uses of the building – chapel and crematory. The geometry is driven by the arrival routes of visitors to the site – by foot and by hearse. Common complications of the crematorium brief occur as services begin and end constantly. In order to reduce the risk of crossover – which leads to confusion at best, and distress at worst – elements of the building programme have been separated from the main building to form a Remembrance Court. It is a special place for reflection, solitude and memory, with a hierarchy of both internal and external spaces. A reflective pool acts as a pin wheel to the space – further separating those arriving, departing and visiting the site.
As an established site, several constraints existed on the site, including the presence of interred and scattered ashes, building boundary lines as set by the Crematorium Act 1902, and a listed building set within the site’s boundary. In addition, the client wished to continue operation of the site throughout construction, leading to a prolonged and complex phasing strategy.