Karl Marx’s renowned resting place Highgate Cemetery under threat from climate crisis

Trust caring for world-famous burial ground launches competitions to help conserve area

Kate Ng
Wednesday 25 November 2020 12:50
The tombstone of Karl Marx at Londons Highgate Cemetery
The tombstone of Karl Marx at Londons Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery, the resting place of renowned figures including Karl Marx and Lucian Freud, is under threat from climate change, says the trust that cares for the burial ground.

Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust is launching two competitions to search for designers and architects to help conserve Highgate Cemetery, which is facing damage from long-term decay and maturing self-seeded trees.

The onslaught of more extreme weather due to the climate crisis is eroding gravel paths and overwhelming the historic drainage systems under the cemetery. The trees have “afflicted by new pests and diseases” brought on by the stresses of the changing environment, said the trust.

The first competition launched by the trust is seeking landscape designers to develop a masterplan, and the second aims to find an “architect-led multidisciplinary design team” that can envision and carry out projects to preserve the historic monuments in the cemetery.

Marin Adeney, chair of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, said in a statement: “We will be working with the local community, cemetery volunteers and experts so that the trees, paths, monuments and buildings will be better looked after, the Cemetery will continue to function as an active burial ground, and visiting will be easier and more rewarding.

“This is important because Highgate is still a working cemetery with over 170,000 people buried here and in more usual times welcomes over 100,000 visitors a year from all over the world.

“Having saved the Cemetery from dereliction in the 1970s, and secured the major monuments, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust is now looking at how this world-famous resting place of so many distinguished people can be conserved and enhanced for future generations.”

Landscape architects and architects are invited to enter the competitions. The former should produce a landscape masterplan that will guide the development of the cemetery over the next 25 years, and include strategies to preserve and enhance the qualities of the cemetery.

The latter should form a multidisciplinary team and consider how to conserve historic structures and improve facilities at the cemetery for visitors and staff.

Jane Findlay, president of the Landscape Institute, said: “As custodians of such a significant landscape site, by launching these competitions, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust has taken the important step in ensuring it will be fit for the 21st century.

“This is not a short-term undertaking, but it is an important one. The landscape masterplan will guide the development of the cemetery for the next 25 years, so it is important that we attract the best talents in landscape design and architecture for this world-renowned cemetery.

“As the chartered body for the landscape profession, we are delighted to have been able to use our expertise in the sector to create this landscape competition.”

The deadline for entries for the first stage of the landscape competition is 13 January 2021, and 20 January 2021 for the first stage of the architectural projects competition.

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