Memory Gardens

Niloufar Jalal-Zadeh


John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto



The emancipation of the biological body from tangible memory


#: FreeTheRemains, CelebratingTheReturn, SustainableCemeteries, LandscapeSolutions, PublicGardens


The biological remains of the beloved deceased succumb to decay despite the gallons of embalming fluid, chemically treated endangered wood and the many tons of concrete and steel we bury in the earth to mark the underground territories of the dead.

This proposal reimagines a “grave site” where memorialisation does not impenetrably claim the ground but rather supports and celebrates decomposition as the crucial final step our physical bodies must undergo in the Natural cycle.

Where the remains are to seamlessly become the earth*, the appropriate vessel by nature, becomes a landscaping element; to retain and enshrine earth itself, the remains that return to it, and the life that blossoms from it.

Precast concrete units are designed to aggregate “memorial bodies” – surfaces bearing the memory of individuals whose remains are returned to the earth retained – in a proficient and flexible manner. The units exist in two types: The Retaining Unit, and the Supporting Unit. The two can be combined to administer a diverse set of landscape strategies to address design problems of varying scale and context. Among the scenarios imagined are terraced gardens that con preserve ravines against erosion and flooding, and stacked landscape towers that can double as multi-level pedestrian bridges or be inserted in urban fabrics as vertical gardens. The ultimate aim is to fold the burial ground typology back into the fabric of public life in a manner that reconciles and celebrates our inevitable physical connection to the earth. It provides a continual and communal narrative, alternate to the finite isolation that otherwise awaits our corporal bodies in the conventional graveyard.

The final image portrays an instance of possible further exploration with the landscape module. Here, as a navigation strategy, a stepped garden is imagined where units represent days in the year and bear memorials accordingly. The garden is planted such that the sweep of blossoms across it throughout the seasons act as a visual calendar that celebrates those whose memories hold up its earth and whose bodies have nourished it.


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