An extension to one of the UK’s most significant Jewish cemeteries signifies a milestone for the local religious community as it marks the first new consecration of a United Synagogue burial site in the UK in 50 years.
The extension, which was completed by Waugh Thistleton Architects, was recently shortlisted for the 2018 RIBA Stirling Prize. As part of the shortlisting the judges commented: “Waugh Thistleton have a very strong, long term relationship with the Jewish community. They have worked on a number of synagogues prior to this project and the simplicity, austerity even, of the means and materials used in this project are a reflection of this mutual respect, trust and empathy. Every aspect of the buildings layout and progress through the landscape are in keeping with the spirit of the event.”
The scheme has created two new prayer halls and a series of service buildings. The main ceremonial space was formed from rammed earth and clad internally in English oak, creating a calm environment accentuated with indirect lighting. Rammed earth, a natural mix of compressed soil excavated on site, lime stone and sand, creates a durable yet biodegradable structure, echoing the return to the earth by the departed, an element of design the RIBA judges commended the project on. In contrast with the plainness of the buildings, the landscape is almost lush. The cemetery is surrounded by a tree belt and a series of balancing ponds to capture the increased rain water runoff fed by a clever drainage system.
Andrew Waugh, Director at Waugh Thistleton Architects said: “We are so proud that Bushey Cemetery was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize. It is testament to the close collaboration of the project team and the United Synagogue that we have been able to deliver a building that offers a respectful yet impactful ceremonial space for the funeral procession. We worked closely with United Synagogue to gain detailed insight into the Orthodox Jewish burial practice and our design sought to reflect that in its simplicity and choice of materials.”
As well as its RIBA Stirling Prize nomination, the project has been shortlisted for a 2018 WAF Award in the category of Religion – Completed Buildings and has been awarded two RIBA awards including a RIBA East Award 2018 and a RIBA National Award 2018.
Lali Virdee, the United Synagogue’s Property Director said: “The United Synagogue supports its members throughout every stage of their life and eventually death. This project was commissioned in order to preserve one of the most basic tenets of Judaism which includes maintaining cemeteries in perpetuity, whilst creating a fitting resting place where family and friends can have a meaningful and fitting experience. Working with Waugh Thistleton over a number of years, we have together produced this experience and we would like to congratulate them on pursuing an innovative design.”
Bushey Cemetery was created in collaboration with engineers Elliott Wood and landscape architects J&L Gibbons alongside main contractors Buxton Building Contractors.