Located in Sydney, Australia, Taylor Brammer Landscape Architects with Welsh + Major Architects created a new contemporary vision for the 140-year-old bushland cemetery. The site is located on the land of the Bidjigal people on Dharug country.

The brief was to respect and embrace the existing natural and commemorative character of this traditional bushland cemetery whilst creating a memorable and deferential cemetery landscape. Additionally, the upgrade was to address the increasing urban growth and the aging population in the Northwest region of Sydney to provide capacity for future generations whilst maintaining and uplifting the character of the place.

This appreciation of the place identified the most enduring natural quality of the site to be the 8.2-hectare existing bushland setting. The surrounding bushland provided design inspiration which included the warm and highly textured barks of Eucalyptus trunks, the textured surface of sandstone, smooth fine seams of clay and the presence of sky.

The detailed design rejuvenated the existing cemetery with new landscape works, including a new entry and gate, walking tracks, parking areas, a new public internment vault, public crypt, columbarium walls, commemorative plinths, office building and a new centrepiece, known as the Sanctuary, a sheltered space for people to come together and celebrate the lives of their friends and family in comfort and dignity.

The centrepiece of this new masterplan conceived by Taylor Brammer – The Sanctuary – developed with Welsh & Major to explore the idea of commonalities – commonalities shared in grieving and celebrating; quiet contemplation and public proclamation:
– a focus (hearth/ light);
– a place to sit, as one or as many;
– a centrepiece/ table (tabula/mensa); – shelter

The building form of The Sanctuary grew from our discussions on how we could empathetically provide the essentials for a space that deals with emotions that travel with ceremony – of contemplation, mourning, celebration, and loss.

Designing a space that engages sensitively with emotion drew us to explore how best to use light to define place – a translucent roof hovers above contrasting ringed roof forms assembled from bead blasted steel and polished chrome. This creates a circle of light with an ethereal quality enhanced by the native bushland setting that surrounds it.

The focal point of the space is the marble topped mensa, which provides a metaphorical centre to the space. Flanked by precast concrete benches topped in Australian hardwood, the space is cradled by the precast columbarium walls that define the footprint of the structure.

Set at the centre of the reimagined cemetery, The Sanctuary offers a destination within the grounds that provides community members of all faiths and denominations a place of generosity, dignity contemplation and peace.

Construction commenced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, posing challenges in securing the original selection of materials. The consultant and construction teams collaborated to substitute overseas products with locally sourced alternatives. A significant decision was made to utilise locally obtained finished pre-cast concrete as landscape walling material.

Through sandblasting and honing techniques, the exposed aggregates resulted in lighter colours, evoking an ethereal atmosphere. This strategic materiality change proved advantageous, imparting a lighter effect to the overall design. The inclusion of white and sandy hues throughout the site-wide design forms symbolic associations to the heavens and earth, enhancing the profound symbolism of the space.

The material palette is intentionally restricted to pre-cast concrete, fabricated metal, and selected natural stone which creates a sense of ease and repose for visitors amongst the existing bushland character. These selected materials carry a sense of permanence and eternal nature, fostering an inviting and calm landscape setting.

The shared vision for the place has created a unique outcome that establishes metaphorical connections with the Heavens and Earth. Through the modulation of light, the ethereal quality of the built form is complemented by the native bushland textures, highlighted by the bark of the surrounding rough barked eucalyptus forest.

Architecture offices involved in the design: Welsh + Major Architects

Gilbert Rd, Castle Hill
NSW 2154 Australia

Design year: 2019

Year Completed: 2021


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