As land for graves becomes scarce, this design for a skyscraper cemetery could be the resting place of the future

Updated Jan 29, 2014

The Vertical Cemetery

Last month, during a conference in Oslo, Norway, an architecture student by the name of Andrew McSherry won praise from attendees for what has been called a “highly original” design for a modular skyscraper cemetery.

Presented at the aptly named Oslo Conference for Nordic Cemeteries and Graveyards, the design dubbed “The Vertical Cemetery” calls for a latticed white skyscraper consisting of stacked open-air cemeteries rather than enclosed floors.

The Vertical Cemetery cross sectionThe design is a creative way to solve Norway’s scarcity of open land for graves. According to Gizmodo, Norway, like many other countries who are strapped for open land for graves, has long used grave recycling to make sure Norwegians have a place for final resting. At least temporarily. After 20 years, the graves of deceased Norwegians are given up to be used again.

However, during World War II Norwegian law began requiring bodies to be wrapped in air-tight plastic tarps before burial. It was intended to decrease the likelihood of soil and water contamination since the graves were being turned over so often. Instead, it prevented the bodies from decomposing and led to an even greater shortage of available plots. To free up space faster, some coffins are being injected with a limestone compound that accelerates decomposition.

McSherry told Norway’s edition of The Local that he envisions the city of Oslo’s different communities each having their own level with “Jewish, Muslim and Christian cemeteries slotted on top of each other, alongside memorial areas for non-believers, and floors holding the urns of those cremated.”

A crane would be permanently stationed to the side of the structure, used to lift coffins into each layered cemetery, but also to build more layers as they fill up.

And if you’re understandably a little unnerved by such a large reminder of mortality being part of a city’s skyline, McSherry sees it a bit differently, calling it an “ever-changing monument” to the citizens of Oslo.

The shortage of land for burial plots is not unique to Norway. In fact, according to a 2012 report from the Atlantic Cities, the United States has a “looming burial crisis” of its own. According to that report the number of cemeteries in the US has stood at a near standstill for the past 60 years due to the high cost of upkeep and finite space.

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The problem then, as Atlantic Cities lays out, is that about 76 million Americans are projected to die between 2024 and 2042. “If they were all buried in standard burial plots, it would require roughly 130 square miles of pure grave space, not counting roads, trees or pathways. That’s an area about the size of Las Vegas,” the report states.