Technical Study: Bushey Cemetery, London

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The rammed earth walls of Waugh Thistleton’s Stirling-shortlisted Jewish cemetery roots it in the timelessness of religious ritual

The book of Ecclesiastes may seem an unusual starting point for a Stirling Prize-nominated project, but that was exactly the approach taken by Waugh Thistleton at Bushey Cemetery, just north of London. The architect has transformed one of theology’s most famous aphorisms – “from earth you came and to earth you shall return” – into a powerful architectural concept, literally constructing the building fabric from the earth that surrounds it.

Bushey Cemetery was founded shortly after the Second World War and is one of the most important Jewish burial sites in England. Located in the Hertsmere borough of Hertfordshire, it sits in London’s green belt, which offers an important clue as to the landscaping and material characteristics adopted for the site. The £10m project extends the existing cemetery, offering space for another 8,500 graveyard plots to gradually be created across the former farmland site. Although construction finished earlier this year, the first burials are scheduled to take place next month. 

As well as the landscaped space for the graves themselves, the new project offers a series of conjoined single-storey pavilions that provide accommodation for the heavily ritualistic process of Jewish burial ceremonies. On approaching the site, the visitor first encounters a reception block that provides administrative services for the facility. Next are two separate prayer halls expressed as slightly taller volumes and each abutted with a secondary prayer hall known in the Hebrew funereal tradition as a Cohanim room. 

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