How to Design a Cemetery

Cemeteries are a complex landscape for addressing historic preservation, environmental concerns, religious traditions and urban planning. With a thoughtful design process and strong project management, cemetery projects can be completed on time and within budget.

A good cemetery master plan can add value to a property by increasing burial sales and allowing the client to balance development costs with revenue.

Master Plan

Cemetery master planning is essential to the long term success of any cemetery. It allows the cemetery to optimize land utilization and create a well thought out implementation plan based on needs.

The Operations aspect relates to daily management of the cemetery including funding, collections, lot records, and promoting tourism.

3.4 Monument Restoration

3.1 Sleepy Hollow Memorial Restoration
3.2 Adding Niche Walls at the Cemetery
The goal is to provide an additional way for families to place cremains in an attractive, peaceful, designated location with a simplified plaque identification system.


A well-designed cemetery should have a variety of plantings and trees defining its spaces and creating scenic vistas. An important first step is to inventory and evaluate existing plant material. This should include a detailed plan that addresses plant locations, species, size, maintenance requirements and suitability for the cemetery.

Historically, friends and family placed flowers on the graves of their loved ones to demonstrate care, to provide aesthetic beauty, and to communicate emotions and traits through the language of the plants. Although flowers are still offered, most families now prefer a more natural appearance that requires less maintenance. Perennials and evergreen plants are preferred in combination with gravel and stones to keep weeds at bay.

Specimen trees and hedges should also be carefully considered, as they add significant character to a cemetery landscape. Regular pruning and integrated pest management can protect these plants from disease and improve the health of the landscape. It can also protect visitors from the dangers of dead branches that fall or pose a threat to monuments and structures.


A cemetery should provide a safe and welcoming environment for visitors. Signage directing people to and within the site should be easy to read, designed to fit into the landscape, and encourage a respectful atmosphere.

The design of a cemetery should include the identification of areas amenable to various uses. This can include a crematorium and mausoleum, as well as a natural area where cremation rocks or plaques can be placed.

The design of signs marking a burial site should address content and information design as well as format, construction, and installation. Some examples are shown here, including multi-panel historical and cultural display and information signs at a mass grave site near Rava-Ruska (Lviv oblast); a survivor’s memorial sign installed at the entrance to the forest which envelops the Jewish cemetery north of Drohobych; and a simple bilingual memorial sign at the large Jewish mass grave complex at Babyn Yar in Kyiv.

Grading and Drainage

Cemetery grading should be done thoughtfully. Graves, memorial benches, pathways and trees should all be placed in a manner that provides for good drainage. This will minimize damage from stormwater runoff. It will also prevent water from pooling on or between tombstones, which can cause discoloration and deterioration of the stonework.

Incorporating green burial sections can also be an environmentally friendly way to provide a variety of interment options while meeting the need to preserve existing geographic assets. This type of burial allows for a more natural environment, reduces excavation and backfill requirements, and meets the needs of families with various budgets.

A thoughtfully planned cemetery layout with a variety of plantings and natural areas creates a beautiful sanctuary and can help attract living families. This can increase revenue for the cemetery through the sale of new grave and cremation plots that may take advantage of views or location within the cemetery park. In addition, a well-designed plan will make preservation treatments more cost effective for the cemetery.

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