Despite an active consumer society, coffins are one object that people in the West rarely spend much time choosing. It’s not the same the world over, some Ghanaians are buried in ‘fantasy coffins’ that resemble cars, aircraft and even pianos. What Ghanaians choose in death reflects their professions or interests in life.
Italian designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel hope to change the Western way of death with a coffin known as Capsula Mundi that allows a decomposing body to provide nutrients to a tree. Encased in a seed-like pod, the corpse is curled into a foetal position and planted beneath the deceased’s favourite species of tree (location permitting).
‘As designers we have asked ourselves what is our role in front of a society distant from nature, satisfied and overloaded with objects,’ say the Italian pair.
Their aim is to create ‘memory parks’ as an alternative to traditional cemeteries, although Italian laws currently make the Capsula Mundi illegal.
England is running out of burial space, according to the University of York’s Cemetery Research Group. Reusing graves is a possible solution, as are woodland burials. Clandon Wood is a natural burial site in Surrey that contains around 1,000 broadleaf trees. It was awarded Cemetery of the Year 2014 at the Good Funeral Awards.
Fran Hall, operations manager at Clandon Wood notes some practical objections to Capsula Mundi: ‘How do the project designers propose that this ‘old perfect shape’ is carried, bearing in mind the average weight of a deceased person is around ten to 12 stone. And how would they prepare a grave of sufficient size to accommodate the presumably around six foot height of it without excavating a huge hole?’
‘The bulk of the body will also be in the part of the container at the lowest depth, apparently around six foot beneath the earth – aerobic decomposition takes place in the top metre of soil where microbes and oxygen proliferate. At 6’ below the ground, decomposition is anaerobic, far less desirable from a natural burial point of view,’ she adds.
Illegal in Italy, and impractical in the UK, Capsula Mundi perhaps serves best as an example of the changing way people think about our place on Earth.
This article was published in the June 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine