KAAN Architecten has designed the new Crematorium Siesegem on the outskirts of Aalst. The building is an ode to verticality, while being horizontal and pure in its geometry and balanced proportions. Its calm, easily readable environment and tranquil landscape merge together to emanate genuine serenity.
Located in the countryside bordering the western ring road of the Belgian City, the crematorium, with its 74x74 meter footprint, merges with trees and shrubs that line the perimeter of the surrounding park, which was conceived by landscape architect Erik Dhont. Approaching the entrance at Blauwenbergstraat, a sense of calm pervades the site and upon arrival, visitors are subtly persuaded to slow down by the undulating gentle green mounds. To the North, a pond serves as a reservoir for rainwater, while small adjacent hills are dedicated to scattered ashes and to an urn garden. At the eastern end, there is a service road for the hearses that is entirely hidden from view so that families are not disturbed during the mourning ceremony.
Architecture accompanies the transition from a busy outside world into a metaphorical and physical interior imbued with calm and restraint. The south-western corner of the building opens onto a patio and serves as a transitional zone, welcoming visitors and leading them towards the indoor spaces. As crematoria are typically characterized by complex logistics, KAAN Architecten has designed a building that is self-explanatory and feels natural to use.
Upon entering the crematorium, a sequence of spaces shapes the visitor's physical experience, preventing spatial confusion. At 6.4 meters tall, the remarkable floor-to-ceiling height of the interior enhances the sense of vastness, paired by the warm abundance of daylight. A large concrete canopy stretches into a generously proportioned hall from which the reception desk is immediately visible. The reception hall is infused with light by two large windows overlooking a landscaped garden, and houses a discreet passageway to the cafeteria, which features a large-scale painting by Belgian artist Rinus Van de Velde.
Crematorium Siesegem encompasses two ceremonial assembly halls. The largest has generous dimensions, with seating for 600 people. KAAN Architecten was involved in the overall design, including the furnishings, and in particular the benches: elegantly shaped seating with leather upholstery in yellow-beige color, a recurrent hue for the Crematorium spaces, chosen for its gentle texture and direct reference to sand and dust. The back surface is glazed and looks out onto a patio, directly connecting the building to the surrounding landscape. Both assembly spaces have a family room and a place for condolences; beside them, an outdoor area with greenery links nature to daylight and offers a counterweight to the intensity and spirituality experienced by the bereaved.
Next to the ceremony spaces, the technical aspects of the building are also a fundamental part of the design. The architects endeavor to disclose, rather than hide the cremation process, creating an unusual yet effective polarity between the mechanics and the serenity. The soft sandy yellow color of the furniture is echoed by the ovens and the chimney that stretches up through a glazed opening in the roof. A sense of dignity and intimacy infuses the building.
Photography: Simone Bossi