Last Landscapes: The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West by Ken Worpole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve read a lot of books about cemeteries and it’s rare that I find one as full of new ideas as this one. This is an amazing book, accessible even to someone who went into it with little understanding of the history and theory of the art of landscaping.
Rather than tracing the Western graveyard to Pere Lachaise, Worpole traces it back to the Etruscan tombs of Italy, a necropolis that still stands, built on a very human scale. Worpole makes a case that architecture was invented to create tombs so that we could honor our ancestors. Then he follows his theory into the present, when cremation leaves us without a corpse to honor. How can landscape or architecture build a connection to something that isn’t there?
He looks to man-made landscapes for answers. Worpole is obsessed with the garden at Derek Jarman’s cottage between the nuclear power station and the sea at Dungeness, which Jarman fashioned out of native plants and sea wrack. He’s equally fascinated by the Stockholm Woodland Cemetery, a back-to-nature burial ground where the graves melt into the forest. He contrasts those two modern landscapes to the modernist cemeteries in Barcelona and Treviso, Italy and to World War monuments in Britain and France. The archetypes are available, he shows, if someone would only make use of them.
This review isn’t doing justice to the book, which gave me so much new food for thought that it will take me a while to assimilate it all. If you have any knowledge of cemetery history — or any desire to hear about some new graveyards that haven’t made the grand tour, I encourage you to track down this book.
Edited to add: you can find copies on Amazon.
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