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Meiso no Mori Funeral Hall | icon 041 | November 2006

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words Julian Worrall

Toyo Ito has created an elegant pavilion for the dead in Japan.

The Meiso no Mori (Forest of Meditation) Funeral Hall was built as part of a “park cemetery” at Kakamigahara City, in Gifu Prefecture. The building is a public, secular cremation facility, which allowed Ito to consider the subject of death free from the context of religion.

A 20cm-thick, white concrete roof billows up to 11.5m above a travertine platform beside a small lake. Freely dispersed columns drop seamlessly from the undulating ceiling, while the interior is marked off by walls of 19mm-thick glass. The plan is organised around rectilinear enclosures sheltering the private funerary rituals – farewells to the dead, wakes for the living and cremation itself.

There’s a clear formal relationship between the walls, the floor and the roof through the interplay between the materials and the subtle edge detailing. All the elements work harmoniously together in the composition, but the starring role clearly belongs to the roof.

The project architect, Leo Yokota, describes the guiding image: “Rather than the heavy, dignified architecture usual with crematoria, we imagined a soft place, as if a gentle snowfall had settled lightly upon the site to form a broad and generous roof.”

The roof’s form is the outcome of a balance between functional, servicing, structural and aesthetic requirements, achieved in collaboration with structural engineer Mutsuro Sasaki.

In its balance of grounded masses and uplifting fluidity, the Meiso no Mori Funeral Hall has a timeless and contemplative quality. The project continues Ito’s recent explorations into spatial ambiguity, from his Serpentine Pavilion, London, in 2002, which dispensed with conventional categories of structure and infill, to the recently completed I-Project in Fukuoka, south-west Japan – a seamless concrete Möbius strip fusing landscape and interior spaces.

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