Developing a Master Plan for Cemetery Design

Cemeteries are complicated places with many factors. Developing a master plan helps a cemetery address short and long term needs while improving its aesthetics.

A significant entrance separates visitors from their journey and welcomes them into a place of reverence. Whether through architecture or landscape design, an entrance can magnify the design vernacular and create a sense of belonging.

1. Aesthetics

Cemetery design should be a beautiful and serene place where visitors can go to remember their loved ones. The design should include many factors, from the layout of the property to the signage. In addition, it is important to consider the safety and accessibility of the property.

A significant entrance separates visitors from the rest of the grounds and orchestrates a slow experience to amplify the sense of sanctity. The entrance can also be used to reinforce a cemetery’s unique traditions, such as a dedicated ‘Avenue of Flags.’

Cemetery design should be well thought out and include a variety of plantings that fit into the natural landscape. Well-planned landscaping allows for cleaner mowing lines, lower maintenance and improved aesthetics. In addition, ponds and other man-made water features add beauty and help with drainage. Choosing plantings that do not produce seeds, nuts or fruit is also an important consideration to avoid disrupting the site’s ecosystem.

2. Sustainability

Cemeteries need to respond to changing demographics, increasing environmental concerns and growing demands for burial options. Fortunately, it is possible to incorporate greener design solutions into the overall cemetery plan with minimal impact on operations and the environment.

From an ecological perspective, it makes sense to form a landscape that is valued by wildlife (instead of acting as a “store” for the dead) – and one way to do this is to plant trees and shrubs in the cemetery. Additionally, ponds – either natural or designed – can be used to reduce soil erosion and provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Other environmentally friendly cemetery design features include:

3. Accessibility

A cemetery must be accessible to those who wish to visit and pay their respects. Often the final resting place of a loved one is a source of comfort, and visiting it can help with grief and healing. It is important to make sure that the grounds are easy to navigate for people of all abilities, including those who are wheelchair-bound or have mobility issues.

During the planning process, cemetery master plans are developed to identify the site’s burial capacity and identify areas that are amenable to development. This allows designers to make informed decisions about what is and is not feasible, which can improve accessibility. Once the programming and analysis is complete, the design can begin to take shape. Typically, the first destination that visitors will see is the entrance area, which should be clearly visible and positioned to act as a beacon to draw people in. This will help establish a sense of orientation within the cemetery.

4. Function

Modern cemeteries must be more than a place for burial. They should be a vibrant celebration of family, history and individuality within a shared community. This requires a special kind of know-how that takes into account demographics, practical requirements and natural landscape features.

Cemetery managers should develop a cemetery master plan on a regular basis to identify short and long term needs. A well-developed master plan improves overall cemetery function, optimizes land utilization and increases marketability for the facility.

Whether it’s an entrance that uses design vernacular or a grove of trees to mark passage into a sacred space, the cemetery experience should be meaningful for visitors. Similarly, an effective way-finding system is crucial for people to navigate a Cemetery’s complex layout. Finally, proper grading and drainage systems prevent water from pooling on the property which can lead to flooding or other hazards. These drainage systems should be designed during the master planning process so they are perfectly sized to minimize up-front costs and future replacement expenses.

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