MONU #31

MONU #31: After Life Urbanism
Magazine on Urbanism, October 2019

Paperback | 7-3/4 x 10-1/2 inches | 128 pages | English | ISSN: 1860-3211 | $23.99

Issue Contents:
Democratizing Death - Interview with Karla Rothstein by Bernd Upmeyer; The Cemetery of the Living by Miguel Candela; With Seven Bodies in My Backyard by Omar Kassab and Mostafa Youssef; Constructing Memorial Poles as Monuments by David Charles Sloane; Ghost Life Urbanism by Jérémie Dussault-Lefebvre and Sébastien Roy; Death and Burial: In the Past Lies the Future by Carlton Basmajian and Christopher Coutts; Beyond the Grave: Conscious Consumption in Life and Death by Sybil Tong; Cemetery and Crematorium Futures by Julie Rugg; The Silent City by Nicole Hanson; You Could Be Compost by Katrina Spade (Recompose); Mourn by Nienke Hoogvliet; Rest in Pixels - Interview with James Norris by Bernd Upmeyer; Watching the Wakes of Strangers through the Internet by Andréia Martins van den Hurk; Suburban Halloween Decorations by Cameron Jamie; Set in Stone: Humans and Barre Granite by Monica Hutton; Claim Domain: An Urban Case for Burial by Anya Domlesky; Exuberance and Resistance by the Dead by Bruno De Meulder and Kelly Shannon; Coexisting: A Matter of Life and Death by Elissaveta Marinova
Review by Giulio Gonella:
On the cover of the latest issue of MONU, After Life Urbanism, a black and white photograph shows a teenager boy performing a backflip jump. Shirtless and barefoot, the picture catches the precise moment when his head is perpendicular to the ground, his legs spread and his body perfectly balanced to accomplish a safe landing. In the back, a few other kids look and gesture at the camera and seem to not pay attention to him. The concrete box he jumped from hosts an embossed tombstone: ‘RIP Agapita M. Cruz, Rosalina M. Cruz’; below each name, the dates of birth and death. A pen-sketched graffiti flower hides the cross carved on the left part of the plate. A number of cement bricks and concrete-casted sarcophagi – each of them hosts a dirty headstone on one side – piles up in the back, like containers ready to ship. The picture is part of one of the most striking contributions of the issue. Miguel Candela’s photographic essay, “The Cemetery of the Living,” depicts the life conditions in the oldest cemetery of Metro Manila, Philippines. As the capital city has endlessly experienced mass immigration since the end of the Second World War, some families that cannot afford a house are making the cemetery their home, while others live there to offer their services as grave diggers.

How do the living cope with the dead? MONU #31 aptly explores the relationships between death, life and the built environment. It does so by collecting contributions from researchers, designers and urban planners. Although it is rarely considered as a vector of transformation, death informs the way spaces and cities are designed and built. The discussion of death is often regarded as a taboo topic: it is hardly addressed in the public sphere, as much as it is not considered as a stimulating theme of design. Yet, as Karla Rothstein argues in “Democratizing Death,” the interview that opens the issue, interest in matters of death and the disposition of bodies has grown significantly in the last twenty years. Rothstein indicates demographic changes in societies in the global North among the factors prompting the exploration of these topics in the world of design. Likewise, concerns over our ecological footprint urge us to reconsider the practice of cremation as a way to deal with corpses. The multiplication of spaces and rituals of mourning in our multicultural metropolis also questions the political and legislative apparatuses of government. To talk about death is not just to shed light on social changes, but to stimulate thoughts on different aspects of the way we live together.

Throughout modernity, death started to occupy specific places in the Western city. Hospitals, crematoriums, and cemeteries were spaces built to host sick individuals and dead bodies. In 2014, the exhibition Death in Venice at the Venice Biennale dissected a selected number of these architectures, such as the Hospital of the Innocent by Brunelleschi. According to the curator Alison Killing, the exhibition’s aim was to question how, as a society, we approached death. Killing argued that the design and construction of such spaces produced a certain unfamiliarity between the individual and death. In a similar way, the project for the city mirrored the same process on a wider scale. Nineteenth-century Paris and London witnessed the rise of planned enclosed spaces for the ones that were no more; despite these places occupying a relevant position in the urban fabric, they were not considered an active part of urban life. Even if they usually serve as parks or greens where people can walk and relax, when we confront such spaces a nameless friction arises. As death is considered the opposite of life, not as part of it, the same happens in the city. Spaces of death are counterposed to spaces of life.

However, as Sybil Tong argues in the article “Beyond the Grave: Conscious Consumption in Life and Death,” graveyards and cemeteries are first and foremost spaces for the living. In as much as they are commemorative places, their function is to remember the dead. Therefore, a cemetery represents “a politicized space of interpretation and collective memory.” The current urban agenda for the dead seems to be primarily concerned with the good management of corpses as part of a smooth administration of city life. Instead, the possibility of a co-existence of the two worlds shows that it is not urban planning for the disposal of dead bodies that is at stake. Less polluting alternatives to common ways of disposition (such as cremation) can elicit a different relationship to death. As Elissaaveta Marinova discusses in the issue, practices like above ground decomposition question the way designers and planners think about space, as the cemetery as we know it will “open for complete reinterpretation.” After all, bodies are not objects to dispose of, to bury and quietly forget about. Dead people are citizens even in the aftermath of their life.

We inhabit a city even when our biological bodies do not wander around it anymore. As the Metro Manila graveyard shows, other human beings live upon our rests. The marble mattress they sleep on is the ceiling of our house for eternity. Our future cities should therefore invent new social ecologies between humans, be them dead or alive. There’s life after urbanism.
Inside the Issue:

About MONU:
MONU (Magazine on Urbanism) is a unique biannual international forum for architects, urbanists and theorists that are working on urban topics. MONU focuses on the city in a broad sense, including its politics, economy, geography, ecology, its social aspects, as well as its physical structure and architecture. ... MONU is edited in the city of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. ... MONU is an independent, non-conformist, niche publication that collects critical articles, images, concepts, and urban theories from architects, urbanists and theorists from around the world on a given topic.
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