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2024

MCHAP

Mausoleo Memorial Dignidad

GRASS+BATZ

Recoleta, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile

December 2023

PRIMARY AUTHOR

Diego Grass (co-author), Thomas Batzenschlager (co-author)

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR

Jose Hassi (co-author), Joaquín Serrano (collaborator), Emile Straub (collaborator), David Quezada (structural engineering), Julio Neira (building contractor

CLIENT

Fundación Gente de la Calle

PHOTOGRAPHER

Vicente Fuenzalida & Pedro Pablo Stevenson, Plegma (note: only for aerial drone photography, all the rest are credited as GRASS+BATZ)

OBJECTIVE

The project’s purpose is twofold. First, it serves people who passed away while living in the streets, providing them with a dignified resting place. Secondly, it visualizes unhoused people and their struggles in a public space of shade and contemplation.

To achieve this, we had to go to Santiago General Cemetery (Chile’s largest) for help finding a proper site. The plots they offered us were way out of our budget, in—surprisingly, even to us—the most expensive land in Latin America.

Our first design intention was to ask if building atop an existing structure might reduce the site cost. After the Cemetery’s legal department made consultations, we discovered it was cost-free to build over another building in this Cemetery.

Besides the incredible news for our budget, it meant that we could locate our Mausoleum and Memorial in one of our favourite spots in the Cemetery: an abandoned highline structure made in the 1970s, which was in bad shape. It was also an opportunity to reclaim and revive this public space, out of the standard circuit of the funerary complex.

This way, our project rehabilitates a dilapidated elevated street, 100 meters long and 3 meters wide, looking towards the urban horizon. Additionally, two parallel and facing rows of columbariums also function as benches for the living, totalling 372 available units.

This metaphor of a harsh urban condition—where these homeless people spent their final days—contrasts with the addition of a lightweight metal roof. Street and roof.

CONTEXT

This project is part of a larger initiative, with our practice collaborating since 2018 with NGO Fundación Gente de la Calle (roughly translated as People Living in the Streets Foundation) on providing architecture and urban proposals helping unhoused people in Chile—a systemic, alternative approach beyond the standard Housing First model, which heavily relies on the real estate industry.

There are many reasons why a person ends up living on the streets, and lack of house provision may only be one of them. This systemic approach to homelessness means that welfare and caring networks—not only the real estate sector—must be strengthened to prevent and remedy these situations.

As architects, we help this NGO by providing innovative design solutions to problems unhoused individuals face. These include, among many others, the lack of post-hospital treatments, laundry services, postal address, and—in this particular project—a dignified death for people who spent their last days living in the streets.

PERFORMANCE

An unexpected outcome of this project was that we recently started adapting our proposal—of a new, elevated layer of funerary units—to a more extensive site in the same Cemetery. This time, it is not only for people who died while living on the streets but also for the general public. It is fascinating that an innovation made in honouring homeless people will benefit everyone. Unhoused people are helping housed people, not vice versa.

The administration approached us because Santiago General Cemetery exceeded its quota of land use (70%). Our project will be repurposed to add a new layer to the existing Cemetery and keep it growing sustainably and economically. This will help fulfil their mission of serving more people as the city’s most affordable burial ground after its 200th anniversary.

We will begin on top of an existing square of niches of 100 by 100 meters, adding 2000 units, with the potential to scale up this new system into more than 100.000 new units in the same Cemetery —a potential growth of extra 5% on top of the existing population of roughly 2 million deceased individuals currently present in Santiago General Cemetery since its foundation two centuries ago.

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