Though contemporary, the new Saint Mary of the Cross Mausoleum at the Melbourne General Cemetery in Melbourne, Australia exhibits the qualities of traditional funerary architecture. It was designed by Harmer Architecture, a boutique studio in Collingwood, Melbourne, and features on its exterior rich and elegant VMZINC®. VMZINC® is the international brand name for rolled zinc products manufactured and sold worldwide by the Building Products Unit of Umicore. In the United States, the marketing, sales and support of VMZINC is through Umicore Building Products, USA Inc., headquartered in Raleigh, NC.
Aligning with Harmer Architecture’s mission to focus on using project materials that accurately convey the expression of forms, Saint Mary of the Cross Mausoleum is a building that uses a clever, disparate mix of various building materials. Using the Igualada Cemetery, located near Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, as a source of inspiration, the newly constructed mausoleum consists of a series of vaults with standardized dimensions and parallelepiped cavities stacked on top of one another to accommodate additional coffins.
With the goal of building a space to increase the capacity of Saint Mary Cemetery, where lack of space allowed only a minimum surface area, the new mausoleum is the first in Australia to combine above- and below-ground crypts. Visitors are received in two long parallel corridors forming high galleries with views to the exterior via large vertical openings in a pleated wall clad in multicolored zinc, provided by VMZINC. The pleating is a reference to the neighboring parish center, also designed by Harmer Architecture. Additionally, windows were designed to provide a view of the surrounding landscape, while simultaneously allowing optimum indoor light. The centerpiece of the gathering area, the bronze sculpture of St. Mary McKillop, designed by Julie Squires, expresses and portrays St. Mary’s life as a teacher and provides a potent symbol of a devoted spiritual life to which Italian Catholics are emotionally connected.
“We experimented with a much broader palette of materials to generate a feeling of comfort and hope for people coming to the mausoleum,” said the project’s architect from Harmer Architecture. “We used wood, stainless steel and two different colors of zinc to blend the building into the context of the existing cemetery. The durability of zinc seemed appropriate for use in a building intended to house the deceased.”
Although funerary architecture has been present throughout the history of architecture, it became rather discreet in the 20th century due to the decline of religion and the movement of families visiting hospitals rather than churches to mark the beginning and end to the cycle of life. Yet death has provided much inspiration for some of the most remarkable buildings in the history of architecture, dating as far back as the pyramids. Upon its completion, Saint Mary of the Cross Mausoleum stands as a textbook example of the trend to revive funerary architecture, a domain where the art of building is focused around recreating meaning and dignity for those who have gone before us.