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Memento Mori

Part 2 Project 2001
Peter Richardson
University of Nottingham | UK
The grade 2 listed 418ft high Express Lifts testing tower in Northampton stands as a memorial to the death of an industry. The tower stands in an industrial graveyard as a constant reminder of both transience and solidity. The tower's symbolic presence and monumental scale is coupled with the layers and memory traces of man's previous habitation of the site; a recent archaeological dig has uncovered the remains of a 12th century abbey and associated burial grounds. The status of the tower and its dominance over the surrounding area, therefore, make it an appropriate memorial to death.

Columbarium and Bereavement Counselling:
Traditionally the dead were sited in close proximity to a place of sacred ritual, such as a church. Their presence increases the sacredness of a place that may otherwise seem arbitrary and also serve as a 'memento mori', a community focus for the grieving process. The graveyard is historically ‘the place to talk to the dead’ and religion supplies the means of providing comfort to the bereaved. By siting a columbarium within the tower and providing facilities for bereavement counselling this project proposes a model for integrating support for the bereaved in a more secular age.

Symbiotic Landscape:
A new cherry orchard replicates the footprint of the former factory, providing a new community focus. An orchard reflects the seasons and creates a complex symbiotic architecture requiring chickens for nitrogen rich manure and bees for cross-pollination.
The tower's future is threatened by ‘concrete cancer’, hence a memorial copper screen is oriented in the direction of the prevailing wind, shielding the tower from driving rain and providing access for maintenance and escape.

Peter Richardson

This project shows the pursuit of a tectonic idea right from the site plan down to the signage. Not that anything as prosaic as a sign is actually needed to navigate through this series of richly articulated spaces. The whole sequence from site entrance to the chapel atop the tower is conceived as a meditation on the passing of time and the role of materiality in making this manifest is exploited at every opportunity. At a landscape level a complex ecology is proposed that generates a dynamic architecture responding to the seasons - from the cherry trees that mark an annual cycle to the daily movements of the chicken runs. Whole lifetimes are recorded in the grid of niches in which the bones of the dead are eventually deposited. The free-standing spaces for bereavement counselling take second place to the architecture of the tower, itself enhanced by the copper screen intended to arrest the destructive forces of nature.

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