The PoeTree urn by Margaux Ruyant (via Margaux Ruyant, via Tuvie)

The PoeTree urn by Margaux Ruyant (photograph by Margaux Ruyant, via Tuvie)

For the amount of time that people have been dying, which is quite long really, our designs for death haven’t changed as much as our designs for everything else. Sure, there has been the move to better preservation and much, much more expensive funerals, but compare, say, the stages from the the telegraph to the iPhone to the change of the urn guarding itself as a bulky, somber container.

Part of it is just that designing for death is depressing, but it’s going to happen, so why not go out in style? Perhaps starting with the “Metropolitan Museum Of Art’s Most Trusted Cremation Services Provider“? Here are a few options.

Turn Yourself into a Tree

Bios Urn (via

Bios Urn (via

Green burials are growing in popularity, skipping the expensive chemicals of embalming and pricey hardwood coffins for simple interments in degradable boxes or even with just a shroud. One of the more interesting designs, however, has centered around actually turning the remains of your physical presence into an actual tree. Human remains are heavy on the phosphorous which is a good fertilizer, but you can’t just dump ashes in the ground with some seeds you got at Home Depot and expect them to grow. Leading the movement is Bios Urns (whose logo is a human with its head as a recycling symbol), where your ashes are mixed with seeds of your choosing in a coconut shell-based container that will biodegrade when buried in the ground. You can imagine a cemetery as a forest instead of a field of tombs, where each tree represents a person. There’s also  The Spirit Tree, another seed-containing urn that grows into a tree, and the PoeTree by Margaux Ruyant with the DSK International School of Design that “evolves over time as a companion through the stages of mourning” with ashes in an urn from which a tree grows, which can later be transfered to a park or garden, guarding the ceramic ring around its trunk with the name of the deceased.

Enclose Yourself in an Art Object

Tom Kundig, "The Final Turn" (2012) (via Olson Kundig Architects)

Tom Kundig, “The Final Turn” (2012) (via Olson Kundig Architects)

If you’d prefer to be kept around, or keep your loved ones with you, there are some designers creating beautiful objects for use as urns. (Although in theory, you could just buy any sculpture and put the cremated remains, or “cremains” as they say in the funeral business, inside.) For example, Tom Kundig’s “The Final Turn” is a striking off kilter sphere, that seems to be playing off the visual of an opening tomb for the resurrection, or just with some creative unexpected imagery. The collaboration with Lundgren Monuments is made in steel or bronze and even has space inside for mementos. And speaking of Lundgren, which was started by artist Greg Lundgren as a way of making cemeteries more like personalized sculpture parks, they have a whole service of artistic tombstones, such as some sweet luminous glass gravestones that stand out from the somber stone monuments. There’s also the sleek Capsule urns, which you’d have to be sure not to mix up with a fancy kitchen appliance, that come in geometric shapes, including tiny cubic keepsake urns to keep close to you. You could also be more straightforward and have a memorial painted with ashes, an idea used by Zefrey Throwell in a recent exhibition at Gasser & Grunert Gallery that mixed ashes with methamphetamine to reflect on his late father’s death by meth.

Become an Underwater Scupture

Neptune Memorial Reef (photograph by Todd Murray/Flickr user)

Neptune Memorial Reef (photograph by Todd Murray/Flickr user)

Yet short of shooting yourself into space, the most epic memorial may be in turning your ashes into an underwater sculpture that can be visited by your relatives by scuba diving. There’s Eternal Reefs or the Neptune Society Memorial Reef, which is located off the shore of Miami as the largest man-made reef. The 16 acres that were once barren ocean floor are now covered with sculptures like a lion and towering ornate monolithic architecture that seems right out of Atlantis.

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

2 replies on “Redesigning Death”

  1. “I was those seeds

    I am this meat

    this meat hates pain

    this meat must eat

    this meat must sleep

    this meat must dream

    this meat must laugh

    this meat must scream

    but when, as meat

    it’s had its fill

    please plant it as

    a daffodil.”

    ~ Kurt Vonnegut

  2. I’ve always wanted to be turned into a diamond after I’m dead:
    (If Hirst wanted to be really conceptual he should’ve used those on his skulls instead.)

    But I have to admit the trees and reefs are pretty cool. Good to have options. 😉

Comments are closed.