How to Design a Cemetery

Cemeteries need to be more than a place to lay a grave. They must be a vibrant celebration of life, family, history and individuality integrated within a shared community. This requires a unique kind of know-how.

The best way to prepare for future cemetery development is with a master plan. A well conceived master plan will optimize land utilization, increase marketability and improve aesthetics.

Master Plan

The master plan is the primary document for cemetery design and is a key tool to guide a client throughout the planning process. It establishes the management’s vision for the cemetery and determines what products, services and features will be offered. It also includes a financial model and projections.

The plan provides an opportunity to develop a unique, cohesive site with a sense of place that will engage the visitor. The development of a “landscape with graves” offers the possibility of providing a more natural landscape than the typical, empty, homogenous expanses that line every highway in America.

It is recommended that the master plan incorporates a flexible approach that considers future changes in consumer buying trends and interment preferences. This will allow a cemetery to respond quickly and effectively to changing market conditions without losing its investment in a thoughtfully designed burial section. This flexibility should include the option to convert an existing unused section of land for traditional casketed burials into cremation burial sites.


The cemetery landscape must be both beautiful and functional. A professional designer can help you achieve the right balance with thoughtful planning and design.

Cemetery landscaping should be flowing, allowing for cleaner mowing lines, lower maintenance, enhanced aesthetics and even better wildlife habitat. Trees with berries, nuts or seeds are best positioned away from burial plots, and the cemetery layout should include water features and other natural or man-made ponds to provide calming beauty to visitors.

Many older cemeteries are working to balance the needs of preserving grave space for future generations with the desire to keep the historic landscape as it is and make it more environmentally sustainable. For example, Green-Wood has partnered with Rossi to develop a program for turf removal by using an environmentally friendly sod product. The resulting grassland is resilient and requires less watering and fertilizer than traditional turf. It also produces less carbon dioxide and provides shade and soil retention.


A cemetery is a unique place that requires special consideration. It must be a serene place for remembrance but it also needs to accommodate different cultural perspectives, allow for individualization and meet the demands of the growing cremation movement. It is a place that needs to be a beautiful place to visit and a vibrant community space.

Dragoni’s design was based on the idea of “community through art”. His goal was to show that a cemetery could be more than just a burial ground. The sculptural forms of the memorial are intended to evoke feelings of contemplation and reflection.

Mourners often leave flowers on columbarium walls, a relatively space efficient use of land in a cemetery compared to a grave. Unlike conventional graves where a headstone marks the location of the grave, columbarium walls typically have only small plaques that are affixed to the niche wall. Some plaques are able to accommodate a small posy or flower that is placed within the niche.


A cemetery is a place to remember the dead, but it must also be a welcoming space for visitors. Proper signage is essential to help people find their way around the grounds and locate specific gravesites. Signage may include directional signs, memorial plaques, cemetery rules, and maps.

The space available on physical signs is limited by the size of typeface fonts that are legible in an outdoor setting and by the overall size and shape of the sign. This constraint means that information about a burial site must be prioritized and included on the most important or significant physical signs. Additional information in digital formats without size constraints may be included on the internet and on mobile phone touring applications that link to physical signs.

The LA Group specializes in comprehensive design work that reflects the complexity of historic cemeteries and mass grave sites. This includes materially with the landscape and memorial designs, but also conceptually in terms of surveys, communication and guiding strategies for visitation.

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