A new building was constructed for a crematorium in the Belgian town of St. Niklaas, it was designed by Claus en Caan Architecten in 2009. The design aesthetic is pared back and minimalist in its approach, achieving a calm environment for the buildings intended use.
The cemetery is located on the outskirts of St. Niklaas, situated near the motorway between Antwerp and Gent. The site is not visible from the highway as it is surrounded by tall trees and sunken along sloping banks.
The reception building sits on the south-west side of the cemetery site, with the smaller crematorium building on the north-east edge, the two buildings are separated by a small lake.
The separation of the two differently functioning buildings was a decision based primarily on practical and environmental considerations. It also allowed each building to be designed with its own character and design aesthetics based on its function. This enabled a spatial 'rite de passage' through the site and in each building which reflects the different stages of a funeral ceremony.
The reception building is a long, low bar in the landscape, capped by a 100m x 40m flat roof that extends out making a canopy to embrace funeral attendees and mourners. The heavy structure hovers, as though weightless, over the large external assembly space. From here, mourners gather in a simple, white-walled anteroom with a precisely framed view over the lake, before making their way to one of the building’s two non-religious chapels.
The reception room is typified by emptiness and implements a select use of understated materials and spatial gestures to provide the adequate psychological and physiological feeling to the space. The large windows in the reception room offer a contemplative view of the cemetery and landscape, the floor-to-ceiling doors give the room the necessary dramatic quality, and the perforation of the ceiling with round lights reinforces the solemn atmosphere. The use of natural stone and wood strengthens the concentration and simplicity that are called for here.
The main space has a capacity for around 280 people, in this room mourners are offered a rear wall of marble to focus their attention. The space is completely enveloped to emphasise privacy and intimacy during the proceedings, however light washes gently around the walls and floors from rows of ceiling lights set in deep, circular indentations.
The exterior façade is composed entirely of cassette tiles with small square windows of differing sizes set into some of the cassettes. The pattern not only allows daylight to permeate the interior but also offers a subtle detail to the buildings exterior.