Deep in the Earth, A Tower for the Dead

by A-Badgero

Levels 6 to 250 are reserved for urns containing the remains in Mexico City's proposed Tower for the Dead

Man began burying their dead mainly for sanitary reasons. Before the invention of antiseptics when a person died of a illness such as tuberculosis immediate removal of the body was very important for the safety of the rest of the family. The burying of the body was not only the quickest way to stop any prolonged exposure but also easiest method to ensure that carrion eating predators were not attracted.

The tradition of burying the dead dates back over 130,000 years with the first burials discovered having  goods buried with them making it the first evidence of religious practices  and the belief of an afterlife taking place. Once the idea of an afterlife was established the act of burying became an important ritual that the majority of cultures practiced.

In 2011 the Earth’s population reached 7 billion bringing to light more than ever the issues of over-population and the scarcity of available land which have become a huge concern in many of the world’s most populated regions. What will become of our tradition once we run out of ground space in which to inter our dead? Man kind has always prided themselves on their ability to adapt to new situations which exactly what we need to do in order to combat these increasing concerns.

Architectural designers entering the field are being challenged with the task of addressing many of the world’s problems with smarter building designs. Building upwards or downwards is quickly becoming the norm when trying to achieve more space.

Mexico City is a prime example of a region that has a growing, aging population and very little available land. Land that is available is usually on the outskirts of town and would be better used for agricultural development rather than burying the dead. Federal law in Mexico dictates that no historical buildings are to be demolished and imposed height regulations not allowing new structures to exceed 8 stories high.

Israel Lopez, Elsa Mendoza Andres and Moises Adrian submitted their design for an inverted vertical eco-graveyard to the Evolo’s 2011 Skyscraper Competition and received honorable mention for the concept. The “Tower of the Dead” project proposes that an underground cemetery would be a practical solution for freeing up valuable space in crowded Mexico City and is meant to be an architectural representation of the grieving process. The idea is that family members will feel symbolically reborn once they return from their trip to the underworld where they laid their loved one to rest.

The depth of the different levels is meant to symbolize the different levels of the grief process beginning with shock and ending with resolution and readjustment at the bottom level. The building design resembles that of a giant screw with levels twisting downward until reaching the final floor at almost 1,000 feet below surface level.

Each chamber has a specific purpose, for instance one of the concepts for the cemetery is the “Goodbye Space” a room the family and casket will travel to after the funeral procession. The casket will be placed on a platform where the family will say their last goodbye and witness the casket gradually descend through the floor. Once the casket is lowered to the floor below it is quickly removed and brought for cremation. Throughout levels 6 to 250 the facility is equipped with chapels, a reception area, ramps to multiple niches and processional ramps.

The cemetery has been designed to be the final resting place of cremated remains which is accomplished with the crematorium on site. Space would be rapidly depleted if the design allowed for burial plots.

Building underground is not exactly a new concept. During both World Wars, elaborate underground bunkers were built so troops wouldn’t be detected by enemy bombers. Britain built a huge aircraft factory 90′ beneath the surface. During the 1950s, the United States was concerned that there might be a sneak nuclear attack and to prepare for such an attack U.S. officials began building elaborate underground refuges for key personnel, equipment and documents.  Some fearful civilians even began digging in their backyards to build their own bomb shelters.

Having buildings underground is actually not as bizarre of an idea as it seems at first glance, there are many benefits that come with having a structure underground. The cost of heating and cooling an underground building is approximately 85% less than that of a surface building. The atmospheric temperature fluctuations that we feel on the surface take much longer to penetrate the ground so as a result when underground, the cold of winter is felt in summer and the heat of summer is felt during winter months. The heat generated by electrical appliances can also be retained and conserved.

With no exposed facades there would be no deterioration from the effects of the elements such as sun and rain. Other concerns such as protection against natural disasters such as earthquakes are resolved in an underground building as strong ground motion decreases with depth making an underground structure actually safer from earthquakes than surface constructions. The building would also be protected against tornados or hurricanes due to it being underground and away from the path of destruction.

An earthscraper cemetery is the ultimate compromise, the bodies of our dearly departed will still lay to rest deep beneath the earth but will now be accessible to visitors. Building downward is not just a concept for the dead either, Mexico City officials are currently looking at many proposals for underground offices and apartment buildings as well.  Could this be the beginning of a world of underground civilizations like we have seen in many of our favorite sci-fi movies?

Read more:

The Tower for the Dead, A Skyscraper Cemetery that Goes Straight Down | io9 We Come from the Future

Should We Live In Inverted Subterranean Skyscrapers? | Discovery Channel

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