Design and Community: Calverton Cemetery

Between September and Christmas we worked on a live project in Calverton, Nottinghamshire. Our eight person group worked all the way from initial consultations and site visits to resolved technical detail for a proposed new cemetery in the village.

We began work on establishing what needed to be done before we headed out on site to meet our clients. We decided that we wanted to undertake a basic desk study, research into cemeteries and compile precedent images to show to the client.

Initial Survey and Analysis

The next stage in the project was visiting the site and meeting the clients, local councillors. We were shown around the site which currently is a field, however, has been destined to be a cemetery for several years. In 2000 a double row of holm oaks were planted with the intention of becoming a processional avenue and large iron gates were installed at the entrance.

Over soup and sandwiches we discussed the clients requirements and showed them our mood-board of images which was very well received. Preparing a mood-board was helpful in discussing concepts and helping us gauge what they envisioned for the new cemetery. 

Whilst we were in Calverton we also visited the existing cemetery and an adjacent nature reserve. The existing cemetery was laid out in Victorian times and it was very interesting to see how people used the cemetery and what people expected from it. We were all surprised by the number of memorial benches, which are a well meant gesture however, are often vacant which causes the place feel empty. It was also valuable talking to the person currently responsible for maintaining the existing cemetery and he gave us some useful information to consider in the design process. The local nature reserve is a post-industrial landscape, a former colliery tip that has been re-naturalised and is an important destination for the area. It has views that reach across the village, including our site so it was useful to visit and gain an understanding of how our site fits into the wider landscape.

After reading through council minutes that they had prepared for us and from our own notes we came up with four aims and objectives:

  • Create a memorable and distinct place by building on the story of the landscape
  • Create a considered design that requires low maintenance
  • Future proof the cemetery using digitalisation
  • Design an economically viable cemetery that can be phased over time

The Design

Because of the size of our group we decided to split into three sub-groups and create three masterplans to present to the clients, this enabled us to present a diverse range of concepts. My sub-group contained three members and we took a naturalistic approach to the new cemetery.

Early on in the design process we established a weaving, helical structure inspired by the history of weaving in the area. This evolved into the ‘DNA’ of Calverton.

This design development led us to create a vision for what the cemetery would become. To support our vision I created a series of photo montages aiming not to communicate what the new scheme would look like, but to express the atmosphere of the proposed cemetery.

From here, as a team, we further refined our design further to create a masterplan. Graphically we wanted to go for a hand drawn plan to create a feel of authenticity, however, the end result could have been perceived as ‘cartoonish’ and perhaps a bit flat.

To accompany our masterplan we prepared a vision statement:

Inspired by the spirit of the place and local history this proposal aims to build upon the story of the existing landscape and deliver a naturalistic yet modern burial ground. Exploring the idea of weaving and the finite and infinite axes of life and death. The helical structure forms the backbone of this scheme; the DNA of Calverton.  

The design incorporates traditional burial and green burial as well as an ashes scattering walk. Several small buildings provide facilities and a place to rest and remember. Making use of modern technology the new buildings will put local and family history at visitors fingertips. The new cemetery provides space for recreation, putting community at the heart of the place.

As a whole group we reconvened and presented our Ideas to the client. Each proposal was presented on an A0 Sheet and an additional sheet presented our survey and analysis findings. A long thin sheet presented our aims and objectives, for which, we created photo montages to aid the visual communication. We also provided print outs of each proposal and background research to help the clients understand and interrogate our proposals.

The clients, with advice and guidance from our tutor decided that they liked all of the designs and wanted to bring elements of proposals A and C (my sub-group) together in a new masterplan.

We set out doing so in the week that followed. Taking the advise on board we created a strong design that we were all very happy with.

Once we had prepared a final design for the site we were ready to move onto the detailed design. We first decided what elements of the design needed resolving in detail and then distributed the tasks accordingly. I took on the task of creating the site wide tree strategy.

Detailed Design: Tree Strategy

Trees were a key element in the structure of our proposed cemetery so it was important to detail and specify the trees and woodlands sufficiently to ensure that the concept of the design remained strong for many years to come.

I began by looking at the existing trees on and around the site. Most obvious is the double row of holm oaks (Quercus ilex) which were originally intended to create an avenue for a new cemetery but were planted too close together. To the edge of the site is hedgerow and woodland planting which are a high quality hedgerow habitat and a barrier to neighbouring roads. Next to the site was also a shelterbelt designed by Geoffrey Jellicoe which was part of the former local colliery works. Several fruit trees were planted with hopes to become a community orchard however sadly they had not done well. They were not planted as intended meaning that they have not thrived.

My next step was to look at the masterplan and vision that we had produced and identify six key types of tree planting that would make up the cemetery, these were:

  • Parkland trees
  • Shelter belt
  • Scattering woodland
  • Tree rings
  • Open woodland
  • Community orchard

I then began exploring these areas and collating pallets of species that would help create the desired feel and effect of the tree planting. Species were selected for their appearance, characteristics, growing conditions, benefits to wildlife and crucially their resilience to climate change.

To communicate where these trees were to be planted and how they would work together I produced a detailed and accurate planting plan.

To help understand the characteristics of the tree planting and the implementation I have explained the process and reason behind some of the key elements.

Parkland Trees (PL)

The structure of the cemetery is based on the pattern lifted from the layout of the former colliery works that were situated on the neighbouring field and the weaving structure, ‘Calverton’s DNA’. This structure is crucial to the delivery of the cemetery so parkland trees have been positioned to reinforce and enhance this structure.

A key parkland tree was the tree situated at the entrance to the site. It was very important that this tree was distinctive and relevant to the concept of the cemetery. The species selected was Chestnut-leaved oak (Quercus castaneifolia). The site is close to what once was the Sherwood Forest, known for it’s remarkable oak trees hence the use of an oak. Throughout the proposed woodlands Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) is used for its distinctive characteristics and its resilience to climate change. The combination of these two trees were a link weaving past, present and future much like the concept for the cemetery as a whole.

Scattering Woodlands (SW)

The scattering woodlands are crucial, not just for reinforcing the structure of the scheme but also for creating a place to scatter ashes. When ashes are scattered within the woodland the hope is that the woodland can become a living memorial to the deceased as well as a special place for those who are bereaved to visit and remember loved ones. 

The structure of the woodland is composed of two planting matrixes and larger specimen trees throughout. The first is a woodland mix composed of mostly Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) because of their characteristics and climate resilience. The second mix is an edge mix mostly Alder (Alnus glutenosa), Hazel (Corylus avellana), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Goats Willow (Salix caprea) which are coppiced on a cycle. The idea behind having two mixes is to create a graduated woodland edge which is valuable to wildlife and is also helps the woodland blend, visually, into the surroundings.

Larger specimen trees were selected to create instant structure to the young woodland and also several unusual and memorable trees have been selected. These ‘special’ trees will become part of the living memorial. A distinctive tree can create a sense of place.

Time is a key consideration for new woodlands. The planting is only the first step, over time trees will grow and die at different rates, new species will establish themselves and the woodland will change in ways that cannot be predicted accurately. At the design stage, the woodland mix includes nursery crops, faster growing trees that will create a canopy quickly and create a better growing environment for the key species that will eventually dominate the woodland. To communicate this to the client I drew a diagram showing how the woodland could change over a 50 year time frame.

Tree rings (TR)

The tree rings were an early concept that was very well received by the clients. My intention was to create a distinctive space that would become a place to remember loved ones or to scatter ashes. The inspiration behind the tree rings came from ‘Ash Dome’ an art piece David Nash, the Ash Dome is a ring of ash trees that have been planted in a woodland clearing and have been trained and grafted to grow into a dome shape. 

The tree rings use differing species to create different spaces at different scales. One tree ring is situated within the scattering woodland, the ring is made up of closely planted Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) the white bark will create a ‘temple within the woods’ a place for reflection, contemplation and peace. The white trunks and branches mirror the white walls of the former colliery buildings.

Technical specifications

For every element of the tree strategy a detailed specification was written up including the required information to order trees from a nursery and communicate with a contractor. The planting notes included ensure that trees are planted to correctly so they have the best chance of survival.

Tree protection has been carefully considered, it is essential that sustainability is at the forefront of design considerations. Plastic tubes usually used to protect trees are unsightly and use large amounts of plastic which is often unnecessary. Large areas of planting are protected with chestnut pale fencing and when the trees are planted, to prevent competition are surrounded by mulch made partly from trees removed from the site. 

To accompany the technical specifications a cost estimate was produced to explain how much this particular element of the new cemetery would cost the client. When combined with details undertaken by other students this allowed us to present a cost breakdown of each phase.

Project Delivery

The entire project and design process was presented to the client and a design folio was produced to explain in depth the vision and the design for the site. We also provided handouts and other resources that will be useful for the clients to take to other stakeholders and members of the community.

I feel that this project was very successful, I am proud of the work produced by the group members and myself. I am very much looking forward to hearing how this project will evolve and hopefully become realised. 

We are very grateful to Calverton Parish Council for approaching the University and having faith in us to design such a crucial part of their village. 

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