As Landscape Architects, we are truly privileged to be able to spend the better part of our professional careers shaping the built environments that impact every facet of our lives…from the hospital we are born in, to the communities we live in, to the schools our kids attend…even the cemetery where we may someday be laid to rest. While most of us are quite familiar and comfortable with our hospitals, communities, and schools, few of us ever spend enough time in a cemetery to understand why they are designed as they are and to really get comfortable with visiting them.
When was the last time you just decided to visit a cemetery? For most of us, going to a cemetery is something we would do on an “as needed” basis only. It’s usually not until you spend some time in a cemetery and really look around that you realize just how intentionally they have been “designed” as much for you, the living, as they are for those who have passed on.
This, of course, has not always been the case. The oldest cemeteries simply evolved as burial places adjacent to the local church. During the 19th century, however, cemetery design began to shift to the “then new” concept of burying the dead in a natural setting and designing cemeteries to serve also as places for the living. Many cemeteries of that period came to be used as much for Sunday picnics as for burials. They are thus credited with establishing the template for contemporary garden cemeteries that are (thankfully) much more beautiful and user-friendly than their Victorian predecessors.
The Assembly Plaza at the Coastal Bend State Veterans Cemetery (pictured above) is a dignified example of this “design for the living” concept. While much of this cemetery, designed by the Atkins/LA Group/RVi team, is in fact devoted to crypt fields for those who served, the facility also includes a number of public areas such as the Assembly Plaza, the Memorial Walk, and the Visitor Center that were designed specifically to make the visitor experience more comfortable, as well as allow for large-scale ceremonies during which our nation’s veterans are honored. It is incredibly rewarding to have the opportunity to design these special places which allow us to remember and to give back in a small way to our service men and women. With extensive training and experience in park design, Landscape Architects are well-suited to the task of creating the quintessential features of the modern cemetery aesthetic: picturesque landscapes, interesting focal points, and places for contemplation.
Cemeteries represent an important part of our collective history and culture that we should all be more comfortable with. They tie us to our past, they challenge our spiritual nature, and they allow us to connect with people we never knew and stay in touch with those we did. The next time that you do visit a cemetery, take a little extra time and look around. Instead of one of those creepy places you see in horror movie, you will very likely find a beautiful, contemplative park setting that was designed as much for your comfort as it was for those who rest there permanently.