Death in the city

Death in the city

Rui Liu

Since the beginning of human existence, people have been crafting spaces to house the inevitable event of death. These spaces range from monumental to economical, and display a vast array of cultural indicators, such as status and religion. While extremely diverse across the globe and universally significant, this typology has experienced less evolution through the centuries as its primary purpose of housing the dead has gone unchanged. Modern issues, coupled with the rapid development of technologies, have led to a new topic about death space and city. People are reluctant to talk about death, but the problem of death has become a critical issue we have to face today.

This project will reimagine how we handle death, and, in turn, how to change the attitude towards death in the future.

People rarely talk about the sad but inevitable topic of death actively. It really exists around us, but people don’t seem to know much about it. Based on many cultures and religions, death is often treated as a taboo, negative topic. But it is undeniable that the continuous mechanization of our current city and society has made our contact with death more and more distant. The conventional funerary rituals and the methods of dealing with death have only led to the separation between death and our daily lives. This separation deprives people of the sense of the brevity of life and weakens their connection with past and future generations.

The project works on whether the interior spatial design can make some unexpected connection with the death. Based on that, the current and future social and economic consequences of death will be the primary focus of my research (for example, in New York city, over 50,000 people will die annually, but NYC cemeteries are either at or near capacity for earthen burials) and finding a new solution. At the same time, this project can trigger people’s deep thinking about death to some extent. Case analysis is the most important part of my research process. By studying a large number of death-related projects (In particular, the DeathLAB(2013-) from Columbia University inspired me a lot, who focuses on interdisciplinary research and design to explore how the city handles and accommodates the remains of the deceased, so as to promote social, spatial and ecological potential, and reimagine the public space of the metropolis), not only did I have a deeper thought about death, but it also provided me with a place to imagine the l various possibilities about death. Field research and related data collection and analysis also laid a solid basics for the project. By studying regional death-related data, such as the number of deaths and the area of cemetery required, we can speculate about future trends or possible issues. The phenomenological and narrative inquiry will be my significant methodology in this practice.

Based on some representative opinions in the questionnaire and my feelings about death space, I tried to present them in the form of some simple pictures. In this process, I discovered the contradiction and balance in the death space very interesting. It is reflected in people’s resistance and curiosity to death, the coexistence of public and private parts of space, the density in the physical sense and the emptiness in the spiritual sense, the ambiguity of boundaries, and so on.


“Every city is like Laudomia, and there is another city next to it. The inhabitants of the two cities have the same name: This is Laudomia of the dead and a cemetery. The more Laudomia of the living develops, the more the dead. Laudomia will expand beyond the walls of the cemetery. The pattern of streets and the order of houses are modeled after Laudomia of the living.” Italo Calvino admits that in our consciousness, the funeral space is a fantasy place and an indispensable mirror image of our own city. We build a funeral space-the city of the dead according to the model of our own city. It originated from the prototype of the city in which we live and became its reflection and instinct.

What is the difference between the city of the dead and the city of the living? We often imagine the beauty of heaven and the terrible hell, but is it possible that the city of the dead is not a strange and unfamiliar world, but a place very similar to the city we live in now.


This space represents the city of the dead, but it is open to the living. In addition to providing services to those in need, it will not deny public access. It is not just a funeral home, a cemetery, and a crematorium. It also provides people with a place to think and explore death. Here, useless decorations will be completely removed because they are meaningless. Here, your perception of space will be deprived, because they will affect your thinking. Here, the connection between the living and the dead will be even closer. Although they no longer exist in this world, they still exist in the hearts of some people.

“The most surprising impression is the appearance of personal imprints, such as names or numbers that can evoke memories, as a representative medium or a way to express sadness.” In the current digital age, the deceased Various information can be uploaded to the terminal. People can retrieve information about the deceased by touching the name on the screen. This information may be slowly forgotten by people, but it is converted into data and stays here forever.

The light in the underground space is even more important. But the important thing is not the lighting function, but the guiding and metaphor function. People instinctively move towards bright places in a dim environment. And these lights also divide spaces in the dark. The light from the new tombstone reminds people of the limited life.


The interior space design has developed from the initial simple decoration to the present, has already had an intersection with many fields. The essence of design is to solve problems, but at the same time, it can also have other possibilities, such as asking questions to make people think. This project aims to solve the various negative effects brought by death. According to research, we understand that its essential problems are related to the perception and attitude towards death. This project tries to use spatial design to strengthen people’s in-depth thinking about death. By appropriately depriving people of all perceptions and spatial information in the space (reducing the complexity of the space), people have enough mental space to think about other things. This space has made appropriate changes to the traditional commemorative activities and the handling of remains while meeting the various needs related to death, trying to strengthen the connection between the living and the dead, breaking the obvious barrier between life and death, and expressing the concept of ‘Death is just a process towards the end of life, not an abrupt event’. After people enter this space with sadness, they can walk out of this space with courage and thinking about death. At the same time, this space can be also connected with the public, so that people will no longer avoid the topic of death.




Remember, we will die : )



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