Please don't bury me in a skyscraper

An architect has brought us perilously close to a world where morgues tower upwards

Share
Related Topics

A skyscraper is no place to bury a body. You might think this was self-evident, or didn’t need putting into words, but an architect has brought us perilously close to a world where morgues tower into the sky, stuffing bodies of the deceased into floor after floor of concrete and steel. “The vertical cemetery”, wrote Martin McSherry of his proposal, “will become a significant part of the city and a daily reminder of death’s existence”. Last week, it earned a commendation at the Oslo Conference for Nordic Cemeteries and Graveyards – an event I’m told is quite the evening.

Pragmatists will approve of ‘skullscrapers’, and probably city planners too. In Norway, the post-war practice of interring bodies wrapped in plastic – more hygienic, ran the delusion - has meant that corpses are not decaying in any great rush, leading to oversubscribed graveyards. McSherry points out that giving more land to the departed means less for the living. You can’t quibble with that. In Britain, local authorities warned earlier this year that burial space could run out within two decades. So picture it: a new behemoth on the London skyline, erected right in the middle of the city to remind hedge-fund managers that, at some point, they too must die. “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” - Ozymandias would be delighted.

Rarely do we acknowledge the extent to which mortality has been elbowed to the margins of contemporary life. In his pivotal 1981 study ‘The Hour of Our Death’ Philippe Aries wrote that – such was Western discomfort with the funereal – people were dying in ever more solitary fashion. Death was becoming “invisible”, he said - long before immortal vampires permanently installed themselves in our culture, and botox took years off our foreheads. Somewhere wrapped up in his theory lies our blindness to the aged as well.

Why then object to something that would turn death into an unmissable landmark? Because, I feel, the poetry of it isn’t quite right. There is nothing elegiac about a skyscraper: they’re ambitious, lean, and busy. Many of us spend an entire life hustling from high rise to high rise; without wanting to sound too much like Alain de Botton, a change of scene is surely one of the more appealing aspects of crossing over. (It’s apt that the memorial at Ground Zero is a pool, not a tower).

Perhaps the greatest elegist of modern times, Seamus Heaney, died this year. He recalls the death of his mother as a spatial process in ‘Clearances’ – how “we all knew one thing by being there. The space we stood around had been emptied / Into us to keep, it penetrated / Clearances that suddenly stood open.” In a way, death is a bit like poetry: everyone knows that it is there, but few people have time to look. Forcing people to read Heaney and co. is no way to make them enjoy it, just as forcing people to consider a skullscraper is not going to cure us of the quest to live forever.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee