Death! A Spectacle 86223 SPR Major Project

The cemetery and crematorium have long been programs that involve the collision of two individual worlds between the living and the dead. They can be regarded as cultural institutions that have a role to play in the preservation or promotion of culture similar to programs such as museums, libraries, archives and galleries. However, unlike their counterparts which have been spatially and socially redefined over time, these typologies are caught in between as an urban space and a place of remembrance.

While the programs are diverse across the globe and universally significant depending on status or religion, these typologies have historically remained the same over time as a significantly large isolated area to hold and maintain the dead. These two parallel and associated programs are often detached from dense metropolitan areas and often located in suburbia where they are regarded as one off destinations for visitors during the day and unsafe during the night. The objective of this studio requires the reinterpretation of this typology in a modern society and how the notion of death can be refined.

The ritual of death are easily associated to the “traditional” Western funeral model : a vivid image consisting of a grim day, tens or hundreds of mourners in black, surrounded by rows and rows of tombstones, and completed with the brass ensemble playing Auld Lang Syne comes to mind almost instantly. This model formed a sharp contrast when compared to the death / funeral models celebrated by other culture and religion around the world. From the ancient Egyptian beliefs of Immortality and mummification, Día de Muertos – where the Mexican celebrates the deaths of their ancestors, or deceased friends and family through a three-day fiesta. Some Chinese culture believes in the life of the deceased after-life, where the rituals involves burning paper houses, cars and butlers to the deceased.

The Mongols and Tibetans practice Sky burials, leaving the body of the deceased exposed and soon consumed by the wildlife – symbolically represents the transmigration of the spirit back to the nature.

The ‘spectacle’ of death has been outlined in media in the form of obituaries in newspapers, publicised on television via the passing and mourning of celebrities and to the general consumers via the associated services and rituals involved. These services often include the purchasing of life insurances, cremations, funerals, tombstones and coffins.

Over the recent years, the entertainment industry has reinterpreted the way death could be experienced and perceived in the near future. Through the innovations of simulated reality and artificial intelligence, the relationship and connection to the deceased has slowly evolved.There has been a stronger focus on the emotional and psychological mediation between the living and the deceased. Yet the role of the physical space played in the process has often been ignored, or disregarded as a consequence.


Despite the belief that cemeteries are permanent locations due to the mass area of burial grounds, this hasn’t always been the case in the context of Sydney which has been moving its cemeteries in its early days. The Old Sydney Burial Ground was once located where Sydney Town Hall currently is located and was opened in 1792. The burial grounds was further extended in 1812, fully occupied by 1820 which led to its eventual closure.

Due to the closure of the Burial Ground, a new cemetery was established further down along George Street in which was then considered the outskirts of the City. The Devonshire Street Cemetery opened in 1820 and was particularly interesting in that it had separate denominational burial grounds. Due to the increasing demand of the railway extension in the 1890s from Redfern into the city, the cemetery was resumed and replaced by Central Railway Station in which the Government had exhumed the remains and pay for their relocations to another cemetery.


Currently, a majority of Sydney’s cemeteries and crematoriums are situated away from the CBD and public domain in areas such as Macquarie Park, Rookwood, Gore Hill, St Thomas’, Camperdown, Waverley and Botany.

According to an ABC news article, Sydney’s projected figure for burials or cremations in the metropolation between 2015 – 2056 is over 1.5 million persons and with over 355,000 grave plots. By 2056, around 11,800 new grave plots would be consumed in metropolitan Sydney per annum, requiring around four hectares of cemetery burial land. If there is no change the cities’ current cremation and grave occupancy rates, cemetery capacity in metropolitan Sydney would be exhausted by 2051. This condition will particularly disadvantage: families with insufficient resources to pre-purchase, and communities with cultural and religious commitments to burial rather than cremation.

Located in the heart of Sydney CBD next to the green fields of Hyde Park, the Georgian style building was designed by Colonial Architect Francis Greenway in the 1817-18. The barracks was once a home for

over 600 convicts who built it. As the inmates barracks were relocated to Cockatoo Island in the 1848, the Barracks then became the Immigration Depot for the Immigration Department, and shelter for over 40000 single female immigrants within the country. Subsequently, the building was repurposed as law courts and government offices before it was restored in the year 1980.

Today, Hyde Park Barracks is one of the 11 UNESCO Heritage Listed convict sites in Australia, also one of the Sydney Living Museums that opens to public, reliving the ghosts of the convicts of the past.