A Contemporary Funerary Necropolis

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A Contemporary Funerary Necropolis

Marie Lichtenwagner


Templo de los muertos is a necropolis in the heart of Mexico City, combining a cemetery with a civic building. While necropoli are usually occupying the boundary zone outside the city, the aim is to interweave a necropolis into a dense urban environment to function as a memorial site as well as a recreational space.
Mexico City is a former Aztec empire – originating from Aztec believes, death plays an im- portant role in mexico‘s culture; life and death are being seen as an endless circle. the well known celebration of „the day of the dead“ is one part of the embracement of death that is so special to the Mexican national identity.

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This project is situated right across the Plaza de la Constitucion, next to the Templo Mayor excavations. 3 funerary spaces are organized along a square spiral ramp, that functions as the main circulation route and as a connecting element between all spaces. The exterior ramp – spiraling from the ground up – hosts the park where the deceased can be burried with a tree. on top the park spiral transitions to an interior spiral, hosting the columbarium. When reaching the ground level again, the spiral is embedded into the ground hardscape containing the graveyard. the spiral itself is carried by large inclined walls, which are always leaning into the upwards walking direction enhancing the movement towards the top.
Besides the fuenrary spaces the building contains civic functions such as shops, restaurant, café, shrines and a cathedral. The openess of the building to its surroundings – as well as its circulatory qualities – allow the blending of a recreational lively function with a highly memorial program.



Who influences you graphically?

Throughout many years of graphic- and architectural design education, I believe that I gained my own distinct graphic style, probably influenced by the contemporary illustrative techniques in architectural representation.


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How does the graphic language of the images relate to the proposal? 

As a funerary program usually indicates a somber and triste atmosphere, my aim was to depict a necropolis in the joyful ambience of Mexico’s attitude towards death. The use of bright colors and naive illustration emphasize the proposal to be a happy place.

How could the implementation of the Aztec aesthetic and means of drawing have influenced and weaved into the images more?
How relevant/interesting would it have been to re integrate the ceremonial aspect of funerary rituals of the Aztecs?

The main intention of the project was to transform a static architecture for the dead into a dynamic building, that interconnects the living and the dead and functions as a recreational public space. Of course, as Mexico has a long history of acknowledgment of death including the death cult of the Aztecs, the program and site suggest a certain commitment to Aztec’s culture and visual language. The colorful and festive nation-wide celebration of „the day of the dead“ is yet a further stage of acceptance of death than it has been during the Aztec empire. With the square spiral and other symbols used in the massing of the building, the Aztec heritage is indicated, though I believe that more implementation of Aztec aesthetic and the integration of Aztec funerary rituals would have opened too many questions about the delicate subject of the Aztecs’ execution of their believes. This project describes a contemporary approach of a necropolis in an unusual cultural and urban environment, a direct translation of Aztec aesthetic and rituals would be misleading.


What dictated the selection of views through which you choose to reveal the project?

The project is defined by its distinct spatial qualities for the different programmatic functions. The views are selected as vistas of a potential spectator and the experience of circulating the building and its 3 funerary spaces. It was essential for me to depict the spacial differences of those 3 areas – the vastness of the dark graveyard underground, lit by a huge oculus, the narrow gallery spaces of the columbarium with diffuse light and the terraced park that enables a view to the historic surroundings.


What defined the colour palette?

The colour palette was influenced by the colours used for painting the tombstones in Mexican graveyards.



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