It shouldn’t come as a surprise that today’s graveyards have started to fill up. Millions of people die each year and their families need somewhere to place their loved one’s coffin or cremains. While cremation has certainly increased, even columbariums have started running out of room to house urns.
It’s for these reasons that the funeral industry has turned to futuristic graveyard options to provide space for the deceased of the future.
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When the cemeteries your parents and grandparents used won’t hold any more people, new cemeteries must house the deceased. Even though plenty of land exists in rural areas throughout the world, families want a place relatively near to where they live so they can visit their deceased loved ones.
To provide a location for families and decrease the amount of land cemeteries take up, futuristic graveyards will become the solution.
Why Do Futuristic Graveyards Exist?
Traditional cemeteries and graveyards have existed as far back as archaeology has evidence for humans existing on the planet. Some early burial sites were often marked with nothing more than a piece of stone. Other burial places were carved out for a deceased person’s body and entombed with personal effects such as clothing, toys, shoes, and household goods.
Modern cemeteries have continued to use many of the same concepts. Typically, a plot of land gets chosen out of the vast acreage that is the cemetery. People purchase burial plots for a person or multiple people, and that becomes the final resting place for individuals and families.
However, with the burgeoning population and more than 80 million people dying every year, cemeteries continue to fill up and run out of acreage and burial plots.
Futuristic graveyards or alternative burial sites, combine innovative solutions with ideal locations to provide a new type of graveyard. Two key concepts you’ll find incorporated into futuristic graveyards include environmentally friendly solutions and space-saving ideas.
These resting places focus on making death part of a natural cycle that benefits the earth and provides loved ones with a way to pay their respects.
Different Types of Futuristic Graveyards
From Japan to Israel to the United States, futuristic graveyards have popped up around the world. And with land in many places costing a premium due to higher populations, you just might see one of these types of graveyards coming to a city near you.
1. Woodland burials in England
What you call woodland burials in England, you call green burials or eco burials in the U.S. When it comes down to it, they’re the same thing and they’re so futuristic they’re not really cemeteries at all.
Cemeteries that provide woodland or eco burials comprise areas of land set aside for families who want a natural burial. Many areas consist of rolling hills, wild brush, and wooded land. They aren’t manicured, maintained, or trimmed.
It is in this natural area that you can place your loved one. Woodland burials have several requirements. The deceased must not be chemically embalmed, but nontoxic embalming is allowed. If using a casket, it must biodegrade. Caskets are optional, however. Shrouds and burial cloths are just as acceptable.
The graves are shallow, unlined, and gravemarkers are nonexistent. Instead of traditional tombstones or digital tombstones, you’ll get a geolocator device to find your loved one during a visit.
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2. High-tech cemeteries in Japan
Japan offers one of the best examples where land shortages cause the funeral industry to come up with creative methods for housing the remains of deceased relatives. Factoring into land shortage is also a shift in the Japanese attitude toward death.
As Japanese young people become more mobile and less religious, they need long-term storage of remains outside of a traditional plot they must pay for and maintain.
Cost remains another issue in Japan. Along with a traditional Japanese funeral, family members must purchase a plot if it hasn’t been already purchased. They will then need to pay a grounds crew to maintain the plot every year. Some families don’t have the budget for so many death-related expenses.
Ruriden is one of the best examples of a high-tech Japanese cemetery. The cemetery is located near popular subway lines on the grounds of a well-known Buddhist temple. Upon entering the octagonal hall, visitors will be greeted by over 2,000 Buddha statues.
Their loved one’s statue will light up so they know which statue belongs to them. Each statue is made of glass and is illuminated by LED lighting. Remains are held behind the statue just out of sight.
The draw of Ruriden doesn't just involve the light-up Buddha statue that identifies loved ones' remains when they enter the room. The temple maintains and manages remains on behalf of loved ones. After 33 years, remains get returned to the earth and annual memorials are held on behalf of all inurned on the grounds.
A second high-tech cemetery, Rurikon, resides in the heart of Tokyo, surrounded by its 13 million residents. Here, those who have a loved one’s ashes enter the building via an electronic key card and you can get flowers and incense at the building upon request.
Once the card is swiped, families are treated to a video and photograph montage. When the video ends, their loved one’s urn appears in a communal tombstone niche thanks to a high-tech retrieval system.
3. High-rise cemeteries in Israel
As with many countries, Israel also faces a grave crisis, or not enough empty land to house the dead. Architects have come up with a unique solution and have even had the concept approved by Orthodox rabbis. Now, anyone and everyone around Tel Aviv could potentially find their final resting place in a high-rise cemetery.
As opposed to a traditional multi-story high-rise, the multi-tiered building located at the Yarkon Cemetery looks more like a multi-tiered cave. The area should provide enough space to house another 25 years’ worth of the Tel Aviv deceased. Inside, families can choose from aboveground crypt spaces to slots large enough for one person, stacked on top of each other.
4. Underground cemetery in Israel
Not only does the country of Israel need to build high for its cemetery needs, but they’re also digging deep. Taking a page out of history, the underground cemetery is reminiscent of the catacombs and Jewish burial caves of the past.
This underground space is located at Jerusalem’s largest cemetery, Har Hamenuhot, and is one of the first of its kind. It’s been hailed as a modern marvel of innovation and landed a nomination for Innovative Underground Space Concept by the International Tunneling and Underground Space Association.
The cemetery is still under construction but once finished, the site should hold up to 22,000 bodies. Tombs, already reserved and paid for, will fill up quickly. Both residents of Israel and Jews of the diaspora can purchase a slot for burial.
The finished project will contain 12 tunnels, three floors, elevators for easy access, air conditioning, soft lighting, and aesthetics to make the underground burial place welcoming and serene.
5. Sylvan Constellation in England
Bristol’s Arnos Vale Cemetery has seriously considered Columbia University’s DeathLAB students' idea, a unique and innovative solution to provide green burials within city limits: death pods.
Deceased relatives can go in underground or aboveground pods. They remain there while their body decomposes. In a decidedly futuristic twist, the bodies will not simply decompose; they’ll glow.
As bodies in the pods decompose, they naturally give off gas and energy. The energy is harnessed and provides a soft light that emanates from the pod. Over six months to a year, the person’s pod will light up as their body decomposes.
Once the body ceases the decomposition process, the light will fade and eventually go out. At this point, the remains get removed from the pod to allow another deceased person to take their place.
Every reusable pod provides an endless cycle of short-term memorials for friends and families to visit.
6. High-rise cemeteries in Brazil, Norway, India
Proposals to build the world’s tallest high-rise cemetery have already been submitted.
In Brazil, the planned 32-story high-rise building will attach to smaller cemetery buildings already present. Resting places on each story will increase in price — the higher you are, the better the view.
In Oslo, Norway, an architectural student submitted her plans for an enormous high-rise that would house the dead. The plans haven’t taken off due to people's uneasiness with the tallest building in the city filled with dead people.
In Mumbai, India, a high-rise is under construction, and designers plan for it as the tallest cemetery in the world. In addition to height, the cemetery provides proper burials for all major religions, including in-ground burials, cremations, river burials, and exposure burials.
The Future Is Now
While some of these concepts sound like something out of a science fiction novel, most of them will stay around. When it comes to the funeral industry and innovative burial solutions, the future is already here. Would you choose to get buried in an underground catacomb or a high-rise building on the very top floor?
- “What is a Woodland Burial?” Woodland Burials, Northumbrian Woodland Burials, 2021. northumbrianwoodlandburials.com/woodland-burials
- “What is Hakurenkado?” Concept, Rurikon, 2021. byakurengedo.net/concept/
- Boyle, Darren. “High-Rises of the Dead.” News, Daily Mail, 17 October 2014. dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2797118/cities-dead-israel-turns-high-rises-cemeteries-approval-rabbis-artificial-caves.html
- Ghert-Zand, Renee. “Underground Cemetery Project.” News, Times of Israel, 14 November 2017. timesofisrael.com/underground-cemetery-project-looks-to-the-past-for-the-graveyard-of-the-future/
- “Sylvan Constellation.” Research and Design, Columbia University DeathLAB, 2019. deathlab.org/sylvan-constellation/