Architecture for the Dead

Spanish Morgue that Splinters Sunlight Inside Beautiful Cavernous Space

There is a quiet but bold presence resting in the North-Eastern Spanish province of Zaragoza: a new building of notable design, purposefully created as site for families and individuals to peacefully send their prayers to the deceased, before their loved ones are delivered into the ground. The architect driving the vision of the project, Juan Carlos Salas, has called this marvel feat of architecture a Tanatorium, taken from the Spanish tanatorio, literally a site for the spiritual sending off of a dead body – where, in the presence of the cadaver itself, the dead can be exposed to the living light for a final night.

The most remarkable feature of this impressive building is how shards of sunlight slice through the interior as if through an enormous vent, the opening of which points towards the sun. Symbolically in worship of the sun-god, while opening its doors to the macabre-tinged weight of the dead, the design of the Tanatorium could be considered to be fusing light with figurative darkness, the sky with the Earth, as the building’s exterior points towards a higher purpose for the spiritual afterlife of the dead. The cavernous interior marks it out as a space fit for each user to produce their individual beliefs within its walls.

In order to discover more, we caught up with the architect for a briefing.

The Plus: As introduced on your site, “this concrete cavern opens in diagonal direction to the sun, worshipping this primitive god.” How did you find inspiration for this?
Juan Carlos Salas:
Inspiration comes from the translation to architecture of two ideas: god-sun and the cavern. Baumschulenweg Crematorium in Berlin by Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank is actually one of the spaces that better connects these two ideas.

TP: How long did the project take, from its initial design to the completion of the construction?

2 years, 1 year of design and 6 months of construction.

TP: How did you choose the materials and why?
The poetry of a rude material poured into a mold to become stone – this is the meaning of concrete for this building, a cave that contains users’ spiritual life inside. Metal for louvers and movable elements and glass for windows and skylights.

TP: What’s the most special thing in this project?
The building reinforces feelings, it is designed to be lived differently by different users, it evokes what is inside of everyone, but it doesn’t show anything. The insinuation of interior soft shapes combines perfectly with the movement of the shadows. Time passes by in a different speed inside than outside the building.

TP: What’s next?
Writing, the design of a new product, the construction of a multipurpose pavilion and who knows.

Architect: Juan Carlos Salas
Designer: David Leciñena
Building Engineers: Javier Muñoz, Sergio Calle
Strucutural Engineer: Jose Miguel Escosa
Graphic Design: Bogart & Bacall
Photos: Diaporama
Video: Alejandro Ramirez
Project Manager: Ignacio Villalba
General Contractor: SOLCEQ
Area: 196m2
Cost: €230.838,02