Blog of Design Studies

Memento mori

Memento mori literally means "Remember you must die".

The early Puritan settlers were particularly aware of death and fearful of what it might mean, so a Puritan tombstone will often display a memento mori intended for the living. These death’s-heads or skulls may strike us as ghoulish, but they helped keep the living on the straight and narrow for fear of eternal punishment. In earlier centuries, an educated European might place an actual skull on his desk to keep the idea of death always present in his mind.


A memento mori is an artwork

designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life
A basic memento mori painting would be a portrait with a skull but other symbols commonly found are hour glasses or clocks, extinguished or guttering candles, fruit, and flowers.
Closely related to the memento mori picture is the vanitas still life. In addition to the symbols of mortality these may include other symbols such as musical instruments, wine and books to remind us explicitly of the vanity (in the sense of worthlessness) of worldly pleasures and goods. The term originally comes from the opening lines of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible: ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’
The vanitas and memento mori picture became popular in the seventeenth century, in a religious age when almost everyone believed that life on earth was merely a preparation for an afterlife. However, modern artists have continued to explore this genre.

Cremation in Europe

Rising Tendency

Cremation is an important element for different cultures all over the world.
In India, Hindus usually have a ceremony with cremation of the death. The same applies to Buddhists.
Jews think different. Thea are used to bury their death in earth. And the Christians: Until 1963 the Vatikan postulated that only villains can be cremated. The others will not get a funeral ceremony of the church.
But the public pressure to allow cremation has been risen:

  • The requirement for more hygienic environment to avoid epidemics. Only think about Virchow and his exceptional activities.
  • Filled cemeteries wherever you have been.

Vincent Valentijn and Kim Verhoeven demonstrate in their book „Goodby Architecture“ a good overview of the changing development of cremation in Europe with the beginning in the early 20th century. The numbers are based on the international cremation statistics of the ‚Cremations Society of Great Britain‘ of 2016.

Figure: Cremation Development,
Vincent Valentijn, Kim Verhoeven, Goodby Architecture, 2018, Rotterdam,Page 11, nai010 publishers, ISBN 978-94-6208-424-7

Different Approach of Cremation – Center

A common understanding for these places is to communicate peace and dignity.


If we are looking a bit more into deep, the setup and design of crematory spread over Europe follow very different and sometimes controversial intentions:

There are ideas of:

  • Strict separation of rituals and and the logistics versus using the oven space for last farewell
  • Demonstrating the and light of the sky getting into entrance and ceremony rooms against the heaviness of earth
  • Integration of the building into the landscape form and local background using the given materials
  • Getting an impression of a translucent building
  • Kind of monumental impression for the ceremony versus a simple lightness
  • Integration of the cremation center into a cemetery versus a strict separation
  • Modern integration of catering and/or ecclesiastical ceremony.

I demonstrate some of the examples in separate posts. Please follow the category „Architecture“


Types of graves


Formal docs and tasks

  • As a family member you have the duty to organise the burial, independent of heritage.
  • First of all a certificate of death is needed, after somebody died. Otherwise you won’t be allowed to move the body. In some countries a second certificate is need before the body will be cremated.
  • Officially you need in addition the id card of the died person, certification of birth, evtl. certifications of marriage, divorce, or of already died partners.
  • If there is a documented „last will“, it’s needed and has to be send to probate court. You normally get an information of the court that it is now needed.
  • Call an undertaker to support you.
  • The death has to be reported to the register office, mostly it will be done by a funeral parlour.
  • The official death certificate from the register office is now the most important documents you need for further steps.
  • Report the death to assurances, employer, banks, etc.
  • Another important document is a „general power of attorney beyond the death“, that enables you to access the bank account and to act in place of the death person.

Types of burials

Nowadays we have different types of burials.

  • Burial in earth: It was preferred for a long time.
  • Cremation:
    • The wooden coffin with the dead body will be burned to ashes at 850°C.
    • After around 75 minutes the ashes will be collected and put into a specific ash capsule after separating medical implants if there were.
    • Based on that there are different subsequent procedures possible:
  • Urn burial:
    • Similar like a standard earth burial. It needs smaller area.
    • Burial into steles.
  • Burial at sea: Ashes will be dispersed from a boat into sea.
  • Tree burial: The urn can be buried in a special forest under trees.
  • Sky burial: Not allowed in every country: Ashes can be spread into the wind, sometimes on specific areas or in the sky from a plan etc.