Perpetual Constellation


SUMMARY: We all die. Given increasing urban populations, rapidly depleting city cemetery space, and the acute environmental toll of casketed burial and cremation, DeathLAB is re-conceiving the infrastructure of urban mortuary practices. Our "Perpetual Constellation" projects advance social, spatial and environmental potential through elegant, ecologically positive funerary and disposition practices.

PROBLEM SPACE: "Environmental and social imperatives of 21st-century cities require fundamentally rethinking mortuary practices. Cemeteries within global cities are at capacity and annual American deaths are increasing as the post-WWII generation continues to age. By 2050, 83 million Americans will be over age 65, and the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and Census Bureau project that roughly 4.25 million people will die in the U.S. in 2050, resulting in 1.6 million more corpses than in 2010.

Casketed burial and cremation are resource-intensive practices. Embalming fluids, elaborate hardwood and metal coffins, and concrete burial vaults are unnecessarily depletive and environmentally harmful. While "natural burial" is a sensible alternative where land conservation is viable, this option does not address dense urban contexts estimated to house 65% of the world's population by 2025. Cremation incinerates the body at 1500F for two-to-three hours, reducing the corpse to less than 4% of its mass. While spatially efficient, cremation relies on non-renewable fuels, and releases toxic hot gases to the atmosphere. In India and Nepal funeral pyres consume approximately 60 million trees annually. Through cremation, the chemical and biological potency of biomass is subverted to inert carbon ash, greenhouse gases, and pollutants.

There are better options."

SOLUTION: "DeathLAB's objective is to provide urban residents with elegant, ecologically sensible options at death that are commensurate with the values we honor while alive. Perpetual Constellation addresses the inadequacy of traditional urban mortuary practices from an environmental and social perspective. Our design strategy augments the capacity of existing urban cemeteries and secures the stewardship of new public space in the future metropolis.

The human body is principally water, carbon, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous: elements suitable to contribute to a natural ecology. Perpetual Constellation honors the deceased in individual, short-term shrines that enable accelerated biological decomposition. The system enhances urban funerary options with an alternative, ecologically positive disposition process contained within networked, re-usable vessels. Biomass is converted into energy, creating light that dims at the end of the decomposition process, marketing a transition in mourning, a reassertion of life, and readiness for the system to accept and honor another loss.

Each memorial processing vessel uses oxygen-free microbial digestion to carry out corpse disposition, relying on microbial methanogensis - the dominant method of anaerobically breaking down organic matter - to distill the human corpse to its basic chemical and biological components within six months to a year. Energy, in the form of light, will be produced through the generation of methane via anerobic carbon cycling. Small amounts of remaining organic compounds provide nutrients for plant growth while inert inorganic content is a suitable equivalent to memorial cremation remains.

Perpetual Constellation calibrates natural microbial communities as a carbon-neutral method to both accelerate the decomposition of the corpse and productively contribute to the elegant memorialization honoring the deceased. Embedded in earthen territory of traditional cemeteries or aggregated vertically on tensile cables or slender pylons, cyclically reusable, memorial vessels can be collectively adapted to compliment existing cemeteries or integrated into underutilized urban infrastructures to enhance public space."