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Gubbio Cemetery, Umbria, Italy

Andrea Dragoni’s necropolis, Highly Commended in the ar+d Awards for Emerging Architecture, dignifies the dead and gives succour to the living

The jury thought that this expansion of a historic Italian necropolis was a particularly evocative example of modern cemetery architecture. Andrea Dragoni’s scheme for Gubbio elevates the landscape and structures of internment into a resonant place of encounter between the living and the dead.

On the edge of the town at the foot of the Apennines, the new tract of the cemetery is structured around linear blocks interspersed with courtyards, its scale and density replicating the urban texture of the ancient town. The familiar forms and materials of the living city are sensitively reworked to create a new kind of landscape. Drawing on the language of streets and squares, Dragoni abstracts this into a tranquil city of the dead.

A series of tautly hewn linear blocks protectively encloses visitors to this modern necropolis

A series of tautly hewn linear blocks protectively encloses visitors to this modern necropolis

Clearly inspired by the work of James Turrell, four large courtyards frame and capture the sky, forming ‘squares of silence’ in which visitors can pause, reflect, meet and talk. The framed sky connects the heavens with the earth and evokes notions of transcendence. Each courtyard has a site-specific installation by Italian artists Sauro Cardinali and Nicola Renzi. The works distinguish and define the character of each space and respond to the changing effects of light and shade from dawn to dusk.

Cemeteries are a challenging typology and modern ones tend not to fare well, pitched somewhere between the municipally banal and hectically kitsch. The jury agreed that in its synthesis of stone and sky, this project had a subtlety and strength that dignified the dead and gave succour to the living.

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