Stories Told by the Fire

Designs for an alkaline hydrolysis crematorium in Helsinki: a new, less carbon-intensive, alternative to cremation. In this building, lives are celebrated through a process of digitally encoding eulogies, and charring them into the fabric of the timber ceremony space. As new eulogies are superimposed on old ones, an architecture is created which changes with time and holds memories in its walls.

hand drawn ground flood plan of alkaline hydrolysis centre by miles elliott unit 8 bartlett

Alkaline Hydrolysis Centre Helsinki – Ground Floor Plan | 1:100 Pencil on Trace

Abstract

A less carbon-intensive alternative to cremation is being introduced in Europe. Alkaline Hydrolysis, or ‘flameless cremation’, is a process where the body is broken down using lye and heat. With the flame no longer present in the process, this project speculates on how the poetic impact and atmosphere created by the flame can be reintroduced through the architecture.

The Alkaline Hydrolysis Centre is situated in central Helsinki at the end of a long street which stretches South. The low Helsinki sun reaches the site through an urban corridor created by this street. The building proposal is organised around this axis of sunlight, so that the light flooding into the ceremony space falls gently on the person being mourned.

It is increasingly common for mourners to leave eulogies on digital platforms such as the Facebook page of the deceased. Inside this building, those digital memories are translated into a binary code. The encoded memories of the deceased are then charred into the fabric of the mass-timber building. Over time, these surfaces are carved away, and the inscribed timber panels are developed into new and inhabitable parts of the building. The low sunlight pierces through these inscriptions, filling the ceremony space with dappled light.

alkaline hydrolysis centre ceremony space architectural render by Miles Elliott unit 8 Bartlett

The Deceased | Perspectival Render

Architectural render of a ceremony space for an alkaline hydrolysis centre designed by Miles Elliott in Unit 8 at The Bartlett School of Architecture

The Mourner | Perspectival Render

alkaline hydrolysis centre ceremony space architectural render by Miles Elliott Unit 8 Bartlett

The Kantele Player | Perspectival Render

Architectural Model of an alkaline hydrolysis centre designed by Miles Elliott in unit 8 at The Bartlett School of Architecture

Alkaline Hydrolysis Centre Helsinki | 1:100 Sectional Model

Architectural Model of an alkaline hydrolysis centre by Miles Elliott Unit 8 at the Bartlett

Alkaline Hydrolysis Centre Helsinki | 1:100 Sectional Model

3mm laser ply charred by a laser cutter

Laser Charred Ply | Material Test

laser cutter encoding eulogies in laser ply by Miles Elliott at the Bartlett school of Architecture

Laser etched micro-ply | Eulogies are digitally coded and etched into the timber

Seamless texture for architectural renderings of laser inscriptions in microply by Miles Elliott

Seamless Texture | Material tests are digitised for use in visualisations

Architectural model of a pew for an introvert by Miles Elliott in unit 8 at The Bartlett School of Architecture

Pew for the Introvert | 1:20 Model

Architectural model of a pew for an introvert by Miles Elliott in unit 8 at The Bartlett School of Architecture

Pew for the Introvert | 1:20 Model

Norssin päädyn koirapuisto in the snow with sunlight shining down Laivurinrinne

Site | Photo of light coming down urban corridor

helsinki design district digital 3d model

Site | Digital model showing urban corridor