This section is from the book "Modern Buildings, Their Planning, Construction And Equipment Vol5", by G. A. T. Middleton. Also available from Amazon: Modern Buildings.
(Contributed by Albert C. Freeman, M.S.A. Author of Crematoria in Great Britain and Abroad)
The subject of provision for the dead is one of those questions which most men consider unworthy of more than a passing thought. Many do not care to think about or arrange for death, which must come to all of us; and even if they wish to do so there appears, at present, to be a feeling that nothing can be done but in the usual and old-fashioned way. It is clearly evident that the disposal of the dead, and the manner in which it is performed, is a question of vital and far-reaching importance. As our cemeteries become full we shall have to decide whether we are prepared to purchase large tracts of land, at exorbitant prices, and at some considerable distance from the centre of our towns, or adopt the more sanitary and hygienic method of disposing of the dead by cremation. There is no denying that as soon as a new burial-ground is opened the land and property in the immediate neighbourhood deteriorates and goes down in value. This would not be found to occur in the vicinity of a crematorium, as there would not be anything in regard to the process or the appearance of the building to effect any radical change. The advantages to be gained by the adoption of cremation are undoubted, as a great saving would be effected in the purchase of land, maintenance, and disposal of the cremated remains, and the bereaved would be relieved of the ill-effects and danger consequent on those gathered at the graveside in inclement weather, and the needless and extravagant expense of processions to distant cemeteries. Its adoption would also prevent a continuation of that crude and often ridiculous art of the so-called sculptor or funeral stonemason, who fills our cemeteries with a hideous vista of tombstones, void of beauty or proportion. It would result in place of this in the erection of noble memorials of great men in appropriate places, such as would benefit the living and beautify our cities.
Of the many classes of building which an architect is called upon to design, it would perhaps be difficult, if not impossible, to find one of which so few have had any practical experience as that of the design of Crematoria and Columbaria. The arrangement of a mortuary chapel is a subject on which all are more or less conversant. These small buildings, designed in an indifferent style of Gothic architecture, are familiar to most of us, while the design of Crematoria, of which so little is known, will, in the near feature, form most profitable work for the architectural profession, and open a new field of design which possesses great possibilities.
Italy was the first country to erect crematoria. Without exception the whole of the apartments are placed on one level, and in no case is the cremating chamber arranged beneath the chapel. At the Milan Crematorium provision is made of an entrance hall with a cremating chamber at the rear; but columbaria were subsequently added at either end of the building in the form of two large halls, with a crypt beneath each for the storage of urns of the poorer classes.
The crematorium at Turin (Fig. 19) is a masterly piece of design, which reflects great credit upon the architect. Here is an open colonnade, with niches for urns, encircling a small garden. It will be seen that a large hall or chapel is provided with a cremating chamber at the rear. At Florence and Bologna, provision is made of a hall with a cremating furnace standing in the centre, - in the former building the furnace is encased with marble in the form of a sarcophagus. Here the friends and relatives witness the introduction of the coffin into the furnace. Precisely the same arrangement is in vogue at Gothenburg, but the custom is one which is not allowed in this country. The crematorium at Paris comprises a large hall with three cremating furnaces, each standing within a small apartment at the rear.
At Rouen (Fig. 20) two distinct apartments are provided, a chapel and cremating chamber, similar in plan to the buildings of this country. In Germany the crematoria are arranged in two distinct forms, one with a cremating chamber at the rear of the chapel or hall, the other with the incinerating apartment beneath the chapel. In America, many interesting examples are to be found, varying both in plan and accommodation. The crematorium of the Odd Fellow Cemetery Company, at San Francisco, may be said to be the finest example in America. It has a chapel with seating accommodation for 140 people. Directly beneath the chapel is a reception or waiting-room, cremating chamber, and preparation-room. The coffin is carried into the waiting-room on the ground-floor level, and placed upon a lift which silently raises it to the chapel above, where it remains until the conclusion of the funeral ceremony; when it is again lowered to the ground floor, to be subsequently placed upon a steel carriage and conveyed to the cremating chamber. Connected directly with the chapel is a gallery, running round three sides of the incinerating chamber, which is provided for those who wish to witness the work of introducing the casket and remains into the retort.
The crematoria at Troy (New York), Boston, Oregon, Buffalo, Oakland, and elsewhere are planned with the chapel and cremating chamber on the ground floor; while those at Milwaukee, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, Fresh Ponds (New York), Chicago, and Davenport are constructed with the chapel either at the ground or first-floor level with the cremating chamber beneath. The crematorium at Montreal, Canada, has provision of a large conservatory, 40 feet 6 inches wide and 82 feet long, giving access to the cremating hall or chapel, which is 20 feet 6 inches wide and 56 feet long. Running parallel with this apartment is the incinerating chamber, which has accommodation for two furnaces. At the rear of the conservatory are three large vaults or columbaria for the storage of urns.
Passing to the crematoria in Great Britain, of which the example at Leicester is illustrated in Fig. 21, it will be found, with one exception, that provision is made of a chapel, cremating chamber, waiting-room or vestry, - and in some cases bier shed or small mortuaries, - the whole on the same level. At Glasgow the cremating chamber is arranged beneath the chapel, the coffin being lowered upon a lift, after the funeral service is read, to the chamber beneath. This form of plan has, however, its disadvantages, which will be explained when dealing with the design of the catafalque.