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Forever Fernwood
Forever Fernwood

The New York Times today gives us a tour of the newly opened section of Forever Fernwood, a cemetery located just north of San Francisco in Mill Valley, California, where people can get a “natural burial.”

In reading about the first inhabitant, we learn what this actually entails:

He was buried un-embalmed in a biodegradable pine coffin painted with daisies and rainbows, his soul marked by prairie grasses instead of a granite colossus.

Here, where redwood forests and quivering wildflower meadows replace fountains and manicured lawns, graves are not merely graves. They are ecosystems in which 'each person is replanted, becoming a little seed bank,' said Tyler Cassity, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who reopened the long-moldering cemetery last fall.

It's surprising to see so few (none really) prominent landscape architecture firms involved in cemetery design, when academia is practically obsessed with them. Each semester never fails to involve a field trip to a cemetery or two, and no landscape history course can forgo mentioning Mt. Auburn, Woodlawn, or Brion. In fact, what most consider the first masterpiece of landscape architecture, the Temple of Hatshepsut, is a funerary site. Every student does a cemetery project; it's a rite of passage.

Cemeteries, like gardens and parks, are enclosed systems. Despite being deeply ingrained in the local culture and beliefs, contemporary practices nevertheless situate them spatially away from everyday experiences. As such they offer opportunities for experimentation, ideal for new methods and practices that may prove to have broader influence and application. Mt. Auburn Cemetery certainly can attest to this. So if your firm is in a state of stylistic recursion, perhaps you should dable in a cemetery project for a month or two to try and get yourself out of your rut.

Imagine all the fuss and conflicts working in cemetery design would generate: between forms and processes that continue the American experience of burial (detached, fast, and antiseptic) and those that would closely resemble a Varanasi funerary ritual (intensely sensory); between the practical concerns of a multi-billion dollar industry and artistic concerns; and between issues of sustainability and the popular image of cemeteries with perfect green lawns. So by the time you finish, you could find yourself stimulated again, brimming over with creative energy.

And so I await to see more landscape architects position themselves in cemetery design and hear what comes of it.

Nature is dead. Long live Nature.

Forever Fernwood, Part II
Forever Fernwood, Part III
  • Anonymous
  • August 14, 2005 at 8:28:00 PM CDT
  • I hope this doesn't come off as self-serving, and you can decide whether or not we qualify as "prominent," but Halvorson Design Partnership in Boston has done a lot of work for cemeteries, including Mount Auburn. Historic cemeteries often face the challenge of adding memorials to already-developed areas, and of developing new areas in ways that complement the original. It takes an understanding of the technology and culture that shaped the original landscape, and an understanding of changing technologies and expectations today. It's fun stuff. A good way to learn more is to contact Mount Auburn and purchase a copy of their Master Plan.

  • Anonymous
  • November 7, 2005 at 12:17:00 AM CST
  • I work for Rana Creek..The Ecological Design/ Habitat Restoration Firm doing the deisgn/build work at Fernwood...Its funny how these blogs disiminnate information..I was actually on the internet doing some research for a design comeptition we are entering regarding the reconsturction of New Orleans...and...on "World Changing" there was a post about Fernwood linking to ladies at Inhabitat then to your blog. It is new to me, but I love the organic complexity of this movement. I would be happy to tell anyone more about the project or post pictures if you tell me how.
    my email can be found on our website.

    Cheers, Brent

  • Jay Boileau
  • February 24, 2013 at 9:45:00 PM CST
  • The Cassity family including Tyler Cassity, who owns Hollywood Forever Cemetery are complete criminals and crooks that should be put in jail. They basically stole money from customers to buy houses all over the country from St. Louis to Nantucket to Naples. It also helped fund Tylers lavish lifestyle with brand new cars and Hollywood Hills homes. It also helped him keep his severe drug habit going on for years. The Cassity's care nothing about the deceased,only about turning a profit on your dead family member. Tyler's dad Doug was put in jail back in the 80s for basically stealing money and Tyler is just like him.Tyler aka "Jules Roth" is trying to separate himself from his dad and brother but the fact is Hollywood Forever is part of Forever Enterprises and NPS. All of the funeral companies, pre-need companies, insurance companies are all owned by the Cassity's. Doug just had to put all of the companies in Brent and Tyler's names because of the legal trouble he got into in the 80s. We can only hope that justice is served and Tyler Cassity, Doug Cassity and Brent Cassity are all sent to jail for a very long time. Knowing the Cassity's and how they continuously paid off and bribed city officials and politicians in St. Louis and Hollywood for years, they will likely get away with these crimes. After all that's how the judicial system is set up in this country. If you've got money you can buy your way out of anything.

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