It would appear that Norway, a magical kingdom populated by trolls and good-looking people who are very skilled at recycling, is quickly running out of designated land in which to inter its dearly departed.

The reason?

Many of the Scandinavian country’s long-deceased residents, wrapped in plastic and placed into wooden boxes, are, well, hogging all the primo burial spots leaving the newly deceased with very few places to eternally rest. For more than 30 years following WWII, wrapping cadavers tightly in plastic sheets was standard practice across the country for sanitary reasons. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, former graveyard worker Kjell Larsen Ostbye refers to the decades-long plastic-wrapping practice as "some pretty poor planning."

As Ostbye and his contemporaries are well aware, the aforementioned plastic-wrapped cadavers are being kept fresh in their airtight plastic shrouds and not decomposing into the Earth as they normally would. And in a small, expensive country where free burial plots have a 20-year turnover at which point the families of the deceased are forced to cough up annual fees and where politicians are reluctant to dedicate additional land for internment, these well-preserved corpses that cannot be disturbed by law have become problematic.

With land conservation in mind, a couple of inventive solutions have been put into practice — solutions that help speed along the decomposition process while making way for new arrivals in established plots from the “plastic era” which, under current Norwegian law, cannot be recycled.

And then there’s Martin McSherry.

Last month at the Nordic Congress for Cemeteries and Crematoria in Oslo, the young student from the Royal Danish School of Architecture brought something completely different to the table — a polarizing concept that would help to conserve precious land without tampering with Norway's abundance of cumbersome plastic graves:

A towering modular cemetery skyscraper — a vertical graveyard, if you will — plunked down in the middle of Oslo.

Apparently, the proposal, submitted as part of a design competition sponsored by the Nordic Association of Graveyards and Crematoria, went over quite well with some and was recognized as a “highly original contribution.” (Long story short, McSherry didn't win; his classmates beat him with a far more conventional proposal). Other attendees of the Congress were mortified by the very notion of adding such a macabre monument, nicknamed "stairway to heaven" by McSherry, to Oslo's skyline.

Reads the proposal for De Vertikale Gravpladser:

"Existing cemeteries will slowly be removed to provide land to the city's living souls. The vertical cemetery, with its open front, will become a significant part of the city and a daily reminder of death's existence. In time, the city's tallest and largest building will become a grave for all its citizens — the city's ever-changing monument."

Vertical cemetery design in Oslo

McSherry’s vision for an urban high-rise populated exclusively by the dead, De Vertikale Gravpladser, would include floors dedicated to the burial of Oslo’s different religious communities along with segregated areas reserved for non-believers and the cremated. And as The Local explains, the modernist metal tower with its simple white latticework exterior would be topped with a permanent crane “to deposit new layers as the old cemeteries are removed or new burial space is required.” As mentioned by McSherry, a perpetually growing vertical graveyard would help to free up land used for the living where parks, schools, art centers, etc. could be built.

McSherry’s proposal has been garnering quite a bit of attention outside of Oslo and inspired some clever blog headlines (“Six Feet Over,” “The Dead Rising”) in the process.

Any thoughts? It's an audacious — some might say sacrilegious — solution. My main gripe would being that if I lived in Oslo or anywhere else in the vicinity, I'm not so sure that I'd appreciate an impossible-to-avoid reminder that Grandma was long overdue for a visit.

Via [The Local], [Gizmodo], [WSJ]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Sky-high and 6 feet under: 'Vertical graveyard' proposed for Oslo
Martin McSherry's proposal for a modular high-rise graveyard wins over fans in Norway, a nation in the throes of a rather unique burial plot recycling dilemma.