Shoreditch-based Waugh Thistleton Architects, who is best known as a pioneer in tall timber construction, has also shared a strong relationship with the Jewish community for a long time now. In one of their recent projects, they worked closely with United Synagogue to expand the Bushey Cemetery, the UK's most significant Jewish cemetery. Designed with simple forms and carefully chosen materials in a lush 16-acre site in Hertfordshire, the cemetery was announced earlier this week as one of the 2018 RIBA Stirling Prize shortlisted finalists.
Waugh Thistleton designed the expanded cemetery based on the process of the Jewish funeral. For instance, the architects carefully landscaped each major point in the procession to provide a contemplative atmosphere.
Embedded into a low corner of the sloping landscape, the new prayer halls were built from solid rammed earth walls — an ancient building technique that is both sustainable and durable — and are lined with English oak. Corten steel doors fit into the buildings' simple, natural color palette.
In the ceremonial spaces, the rammed earth walls were left exposed. The interiors of the prayer halls have soft, natural lighting to create a calm, somber atmosphere.
“The fact that the rammed earth walls of the prayer hall will return to the earth once the cemetery is full and has to be extended again, is a poetic response to the program for the cemetery and the traditions of the Jewish faith.,” the Stirling Prize jury wrote in their report.
“The limited number of buildings, the simplicity of the forms and expressionist choice of materials all reflect the symbolism of burial to the Jewish community,” the jury continues. “An example of the care with which each element has been considered, is the gentle slope of the floor in the Prayer Halls that tips the visitors forward along the route to the graves.”
The cemetery is also surrounded by a new series of ponds, weirs, and swails that add a peaceful water setting, while also enhancing biodiversity. Completed in April 2017, this project is one step forward in an ongoing process to gradually enlarge the cemetery.
All photos courtesy of RIBA.
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