Britain’s most significant Jewish burial ground has been shortlisted for one of architecture’s top prizes alongside Lord Foster’s £1 billion Bloomberg HQ building in central London.
The most expensive office building in the UK will vie with the United Synagogue’s Bushey Cemetery and its ‘rammed-earth’ design for the Royal Institute of British Architects’ 2018 Stirling Prize.
It is the first time a cemetery has been short-listed for the prize but judges were impressed by architects Waugh Thistleton who created pavilions, a portico and thick walls of ‘rammed earth’ in the cemetery’s recent extension, which provides 17,000 more burial spaces for north-west London’s Jewish community.
The £6m work on the 16-acre site in Hertfordshire includes two new prayer halls and reception buildings connected by a timber colonnade, but it is the half-metre thick walls of rammed earth dug from the site that has captured judges’ imagination.
“In keeping with the Jewish idea of being buried very simply, in a cardboard coffin, simple clothes, the buildings carry through the idea of returning the body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes,” said RIBA.
“In contrast with the plainness of the buildings, the landscape is almost lush. The cemetery is surrounded by a tree belt and a series of balancing ponds to capture the increased rain water runoff fed by a clever drainage system.”
Commentators have said the buildings, with weathered steel doors and oak-lined rooms, have “a quiet, monolithic presence, with the sequence of spaces carefully composed according to the processional nature of Orthodox Jewish burial practice”.
The architects are well-known to the Jewish community, having worked on several synagogues, and the judges noted this relationship and familiarity in their synopsis.
“The simplicity, austerity even, of the means and materials used in this project are a reflection of this mutual respect, trust and empathy,” they said.
“Every aspect of the building layout and progress through the landscape are in keeping with the spirit of the event.”
The cemetery has stiff competition, including huge City projects such as the 50-storey Leadenhall Building, known as ‘the cheesegrater,’ and Lord Foster’s new 66,000 square metre Bloomberg HQ, built across an entire City block, which creates its own street.
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