Modern cemetery design can take full advantage of existing natural features like ponds and wooded hillsides. It can also be developed to create striking focal points.

Well-planned landscaping reduces mowing needs, helps with storm water drainage and enhances aesthetics. It can also make it easier for visitors to navigate the cemetery property.

1. Master Plan

A master plan is the roadmap to a cemetery’s future, and a great tool for demonstrating its permanency as a community fixture to both city planning committees and the public. It includes a review of existing burial capacity, consideration for new burial alternatives and improvements to circulation and wayfinding throughout the facility.

The first steps in the process include a program statement developed from sales trends, emerging trends, community demographics and cemetery needs. Then site analysis including understanding topography, drainage, soils, climate, zoning and adjacent land uses is completed. From this, a development framework and theme is developed with the various program elements mapped to the site based on their functional relationships.

Several other reports accompany the Master Plan: an Operations Report recommends that staff be kept at current levels but reorganized to improve efficiency and effectiveness; a Management Report looks at three governance and management models and recommends that Council establish a Cemetery Advisory Board in the short term and a Cemetery Foundation to encourage charitable support for non-revenue producing improvements in the long term.

2. Green Footprint

Depending on culture, religion and location, there are many different types of cemeteries. They include monumental cemetery, memorial park, garden cemetery, VA cemeteries and natural or green burial grounds.

Most cemeteries have some systematic layout of graves which are grouped together into larger sections. This helps the cemetery administration in managing the space and also assists friends or family members when they visit to find a specific grave.

Graves are usually dug to a standard depth. This makes it easy to dig new single graves in old cemeteries but can cause distress when people find older double or even triple graves with no headstone indicating which is their relative’s grave.

Sometimes a cemetery has to re-use older graves in order to keep up with the demand for burial space. But this can lead to public uproar when there are vocal descendants who object to re-use of their relatives’ graves. One practical solution is to ensure that the land for lawn cemeteries is completely flat so that the grave plaques can be easily seen above the grass and not obscured by mower blades.

3. Accessibility

Considering the demographic of your cemetery’s visitors, and what the future might bring in terms of physical or mobility challenges, is important. The ability to navigate the property without having to climb stairs is essential for a good experience for all, and it should be possible for those with limited mobility to enjoy the grounds.

Cemeteries should also consider the growing inclination toward cremation interment, and designing ways to provide attractive options for that within a cemetery setting. This will allow the use of less land, and a landscape that works with natural systems rather than against them.

If a new cemetery site has an iconic feature such as a water feature, a wooded hillside or high point, I think it is important to emphasize those elements in the design. This will give the cemetery a unique identity and create a memorable place. It will also allow the development to be more sensitive to change as market trends shift.

4. Headstones

The headstone is a marker for the grave and a humanizing tribute to a loved one. It may include important details like name, title, age, key dates and an epitaph engraved in a style that will be legible for generations.

These days, large up-right tombstones are less common than smaller, simpler plaque-like pieces. They are usually carved in granite or marble and are placed directly on the ground at the head of the grave site.

Monument crafters now use laser etching and sandblasting techniques that make it possible to display nearly any image, symbol or inscription on a granite headstone. This kind of flexibility enables grieving families to create a memorial that reflects the essence of their loved one. A granite memorial is also a durable option that can withstand harsh weather conditions and natural wear and tear over time. It can be cleaned with a bit of water and soap to keep it looking beautiful for generations to come.

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