Instead of going six feet under, a Norwegian architecture student has proposed to go six feet up with a “vertical cemetery” plan in response to his country’s limited burial land.

The grave idea was presented to the Oslo Conference for Nordic Cemeteries and Graveyards by Martin McSherry from the Royal Danish School of Architecture.

McSherry’s solution, nicknamed the stairway to heaven, sees a white airy skyscraper as the final resting place for Norwegians. Visually, it is a pleasing design featuring a lattice pattern façade likened to the exterior of a honeycomb. The building is designed to grow over time, with more levels added as more burial space was required.

Airy skyscraper

Vertical cemetery proposal

The skyscraper would also feature “an adjoining, permanent crane” that would lift coffins to available slots. The illustrations show an abundance of green grass, foliage and flowers to reflect the ambiance of a traditional cemetery. Each level would also be fully customisable to cater for different religions and aligning ceremonies.

“The vertical cemetery, with its open front, will become a significant part of the city and a daily reminder of death’s existence,” McSherry detailed in his proposal. “In time, the city’s tallest and largest building will become a grave for all its citizens – the city’s ever-changing monument.”

traditional cemeteries

Land is a rarity for traditional cemeteries

Norway has long been dealing with burial land scarcity, which has been directly attributed to a decision made following World War II in which dead bodies were wrapped in plastic before burying them as a “hygienic” solution. This was customary for approximately 30 years but led to bodies not decomposing properly.

Today, the country allocates two decades to a person in their burial spot before the land is reused for another body which alone is an insensitive decision.

Norway is not alone in its land concerns; a recent BBC council study revealed a burial crisis in Britain. Almost half of the councils predicted that their burial space would run out within the next 20 years, while one in four claimed it would take just 10 years.

Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica

Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica, the tallest vertical cemetery

Urban planning professor Chris Coutts’ research at Iowa State University has found that approximately 76 million Americans are projected to reach the current age of average life expectancy (78 years) between 2024 and 2042. If they were to all be buried in traditional burial plots, he said, the plots would take up approximately 130 square miles – roughly the size of Las Vegas – and that’s without including the paths, trees and roads necessary in cemeteries.

McSherry, who received a commendation for his idea, has prompted discussion around the world on the feasibility of a vertical cemetery, though some cities have already explored the idea.

Proposed Mumbai Moksha Tower

Proposed Mumbai Moksha Tower

Brazil is home to the tallest cemetery in the world, Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica, which rises 32 storeys and features light finishes and a 300-person space for funerals.

Mumbai, which is already crowded with the living, proposed a vertical cemetery in 2010 which would also be a sustainable skyscraper. Entitled the Moksha Tower, the facade is expected to feature a multi-layered skin along with glazing and vertical foliage to clean the air while absorbing heat and C02, thereby reducing the city’s carbon footprint.

With cities all over the world struggling with urban sprawl, it is important to recognise the opportunities for denser foundations for the dearly departed.