First Future Cemetery: elegant options addressing the ubiquity of death


‘Sylvan Constellation’ was submitted by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. It envisages a network of memorial vessels which would transform biomass (decomposing bodies) into an elegant and perpetually renewing constellation of light which could illuminate pathways.

Death is not a topic I dwell on often but with Prince dying this week, I am melancholic and it feels right to share these beautiful and futuristic cemetery concepts that were created for a competition organized by the UK’s Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath.

The winner was NYC’s Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation working in collaboration with Columbia’s DeathLAB. Their “Sylvan Constellation” envisages a network of memorial vessels which would transform biomass (i.e. decomposing bodies) into an elegant and perpetually renewing constellation of light which could illuminate pathways.

The team won a month long summer 2016 residency during which they will collaborate with Arnos Vale Cemetery to establish networks for longer-term projects involving innovative, sustainable design around end-of-life planning.

Read more below on current trends in death and dying.


Drawing from statistics collected by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

1. 50% of deaths in Michigan can be attributed to two causes: heart disease and cancer.

2. People age 65 and older account for three-quarters of Michigan deaths.
74% were people older than 64.
About 56% involved people at least 75, and 17% were at least 90.

3. Children under 15 accounted for 1% of deaths in 2014.
The majority involved babies under a year old. Many of them were children born prematurely or with birth defects.

4. Accidents and suicide are the leading causes of death for ages 15 to 34.
2.7% of the total involved people age 15 to 34.
The two leading causes of fatal accidents for that age group: Drug overdoses and traffic accidents.

5. Cancer and heart disease are the leading causes of death for ages 35 to 64.

6. Increases in life expectancy have stalled.
In 2014, life expectancy for Michigan residents was 75.6 years for men and 80.1 for women.
That’s down from the peak in 2011 of 75.7 years for men and 80.4 years for women.
A century ago, the average life expectancy for a Michigan resident was 55 years.

7. Michigan women are more than twice as likely as men to survive their spouse.
Two big reasons for these numbers: Women tend to be younger than their husbands and women tend to live longer.

8. In all top 10 causes of death in the United States, Michigan has a higher age-adjusted death rate than the U.S. average.
The top 10 leading causes of death are heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, accidental injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, pneumonia/influenza, kidney disease and suicide.
In each category, Michigan has a higher death than the U.S. average, even when the population is adjusted for age differences.



People in their 90s willingly talk about death, but they’re rarely asked about it, according to a new British study from the University of Cambridge’s public health and primary care department. Here are some findings:

Most had outlived their peers.

Many felt they were living on “borrowed time.”

They felt grateful for each passing day, and didn’t worry too much about the future.  “It is only day-from-day when you get to 97,” said one participant.

Most of the older people felt prepared to die. “I’m ready to go,” said one woman. “I just say I’m the lady-in-waiting, waiting to go.”

Many were more concerned about how they died than when. They hoped they would “slip away quietly” in their sleep and that their death would be painless.

Few want to be hospitalized if they became sick.

When asked if they would prefer lifesaving medical care or treatment to help them remain comfortable, most opted for comfort. Most were also not afraid of dying. For some, witnessing the peaceful death of others helped them manage their fears.

Most had had end-of-life discussions with their doctor. But, rarely did these conversations take place among family members.




Middle-aged white people now account for a third of all suicides in the U.S.

It is the nation’s 10th leading cause of death, and the overall rate rose 24% in 15 years, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Suicides have long been most common among older white males. But most striking in the new report is the growth in whites ages 45 to 64.

There were nearly 43,000 U.S. suicides in 2014. More than 14,000 of them were middle-aged whites — twice the combined total for all blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives. A group that represents 18% of the U.S. population accounted for 33% of the suicides.

Experts have speculated that middle age can be a particularly hard time for whites, who — compared to some other racial and ethnic groups — commonly don’t have as many supportive relationships with friends, family, or religious communities,

Money was a factor with the economy in recession from 2007 until 2009. Even afterward, most Americans remained worried about weak hiring and a depressed housing market.

White people, in particular, seem to expect financial comfort and happiness by middle age — and have difficulty coping when things get worse instead of better.

In a report earlier this week, the CDC found that life expectancy for white women — and for white people as a whole — declined slightly in 2014. Some experts have said a combination of factors may be the reason, including more drug overdoses and suicides.


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