American design practice Olson Kundig has revealed plans for Recompose, a facility that provides a sustainable option for after-death care. Led by design principal Alan Maskin, when Recompose|SEATTLE opens in Spring 2021 it will be the first facility to offer this new service to the public – a third alternative to traditional burials and cremations that uses one-eighth the energy of cremation and saves over one metric ton of carbon dioxide per person.
Designed in collaboration with Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of the Recompose public benefit corporation, the new facility will offer a service called “natural organic reduction” which gently converts human remains into soil in about 30 days, helping nourish new life after death. Washington State became the first in the world to legalize this process for the disposition of human remains in April 2019.
Katrina Spade first began working with Alan Maskin in 2015. In 2016, the Recompose team completed a Creative Exchange Residency at Olson Kundig’s Pioneer Square office; during this residency, Spade and her team of architects and engineers designed the first prototype of the Recompose vessel.
“We asked ourselves how we could use nature – which has perfected the life/death cycle – as a model for human death care,” says Spade. “We saw an opportunity for this profound moment to both give back to the earth and reconnect us with these natural cycles.”
The 18,500-square-foot facility has secured space in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood. This facility will carefully orchestrate the Recompose process, which is centered around individual natural organic reduction vessels that transform human remains into clean, usable soil. The core of the Recompose|SEATTLE space is a modular system containing approximately 75 of these vessels, stacked and arranged to demarcate a central gathering space.
“This facility hosts the Recompose vessels, but it is also an important space for ritual and public gathering,” says Maskin. “The project will ultimately foster a more direct, participatory experience and dialogue around death and the celebration of life.”
Radiating from this ceremonial disposition area are spaces for the storage and preparation of bodies, administrative back-of-house areas, and an interpretive public lobby which describes the Recompose process. Porous connections between indoor and outdoor spaces further blur the boundary between the human experience and natural processes.
“As a studio, Olson Kundig has always thrived on close collaboration with some of the world’s most imaginative and innovative problem-solvers, like Katrina and her team,” says Maskin. “We’re honored to be involved with this project, and excited for the first Recompose facility in the world to open its doors in Seattle.”