Cemetery Design Thinking Beyond a Place to Lay a Grave

Cemetery Design

Modern cemetery design thinks beyond a place to lay a grave; it’s a vibrant celebration of family, history and individuality. This requires a unique blend of knowledge and skill.

Often designed to be admired from a distance, slant memorials may feature unique shapes or a statue. They also can be engraved with unique words or symbols.

Master Plan

Whether it’s to accommodate the increasing needs of the community or to provide new burial alternatives, a thoughtful master plan is necessary to guide cemetery expansions and improvements. This includes a thorough review of the existing inventory, development costs and site capabilities, as well as an analysis of burial types and quantities, mausoleums, cremation needs and more.

A cemetery’s landscape should be designed to evoke feelings of peace and tranquility for its visitors. We encourage the use of native flora that thrives in the climate and soil conditions of the region, as it is both environmentally sensitive and cost effective for the long term.

In addition, innovative alternatives for burying remains are being pursued as the world struggles with limited land resources. For example, a cemetery in England has developed a modular system that doubles the amount of burial space and is less costly than traditional ground burial. We also see an increased demand for urn gardens and skyscrapers that offer a unique way of celebrating the memory of loved ones.

Landscape and Architecture

Cemeteries are complex places that offer the opportunity to create memorable spaces. They must balance the needs of all users with a sensitivity to tradition, family, history, and individuality. This translates to efficient street layouts, harmonious neighborhoods of related structures, a sense of place, and a design vocabulary that honors the past.

The landscape at Green-Wood is an exemplar of what cemetery designers can achieve. The reinterpretation of the classical concept of a cemetery allows nature to play an important role, while respecting the primary function of a cemetery as a social space for reflection and memorialization.

Well-planned landscaping can also save costs and resources. For example, reducing the amount of asphalt pavement and using organic fertilizers reduces maintenance costs. Planting native grasses reduces mowing time, which lowers groundskeeping costs. And preserving land for burial plots and park features increases revenue. All of this requires a deep understanding of a community’s cultural and spiritual traditions.


Cemetery signage needs to be carefully designed. It must be cost effective and clearly communicate the information needed by visitors in a non-obtrusive manner. Cemetery maps should be well designed and be easy to read by people of all ages. They should also be aesthetically pleasing and should fit the overall character of the cemetery or crematoria.

Monumental signs, and plaques need to be carefully located within the cemetery so that they are visible to visitors. The location of these signs is also important because they affect the burial capacity of a cemetery and the amount of space available for new graves in future years.

Lawn cemetery visitors have a tendency to leave flowers and other items on the graves, especially those of children. This clutter makes it difficult to mow the lawns and creates a maintenance challenge. Some war graves will be marked with timber remembrance crosses with red poppies, and Jewish war graves are often adorned with burning memorial candles.

Grading and Drainage

As a cemetery grows it becomes more complex to manage and maintain. The layout of roads and grading of burial areas is critical to the functionality of the grounds.

Cemeteries are an integral part of a community. They tell a city’s story, provide a place of peace and honor the deceased. It is important that the design of these unique landscapes reflect their function and the needs of the families they serve.

Well-planned landscaping helps with flow, mowing, maintenance and aesthetics. Using native grasses reduces mowing costs and the use of chemical fertilizers. Water features such as ponds provide a tranquil setting and attract wildlife.

Our designers work with our clients to help evaluate alternatives and different approaches to a project. This allows us to stay within a realistic budget and make the most efficient installations. The results of this process are a quality cemetery design that will stand the test of time.

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