Symbolism and symmetry combined in brick at Golders Green Crematorium
The first crematorium to be opened in London and one of the oldest in the UK, Golders Green Crematorium dates back to 1912 and includes Grade I listed gardens and the Grade II listed, Lutyens-designed, Philipson Family mausoleum. The heritage buildings feature some stunning examples of early 20th century design including coloured brick motifs, arched windows and striking geometry.
Thanks to a growing trend to opt for cremation rather than burial, the London Crematorium Company and the Golders Green Crematorium management team both needed additional office space on site, along with meeting areas. The proposal was to refurbish and reconfigure one of the legacy buildings and build a new extension that would deliver a contemporary addition to the crematorium while remaining in keeping with the heritage of the original.
Referencing legacy in contemporary design
The local planning office delivered negative feedback on an initial proposal for the work by another architect, so Brighton-based architectural practice, MortonScarr, took on the task of designing the project. There was clear guidance from the planning authority to create a contemporary building that draws on the spirit and design typologies of the legacy buildings, while remaining subordinate to the existing structures.
MortonScarr’s design carries through the materiality, geometry and symbolism of the existing brick buildings, while delivering a strikingly contemporary building. The project champions the craftmanship of the Edwardian construction teams that built the original Golders Green Crematorium buildings and reimagines their distinctive motifs in a modern way.
The new two-storey, 200m2 extension connects to the existing building with a glazed link structure that has a concealed interface designed to transition between old and new, as well as a mirrored surface that reflects heritage buildings in the new structure. To achieve this seamless link, the construction involved forming new openings in the wall of the refurbished building to connect it to the new extension and chasing into the walls of both buildings so that frames for the glazing are concealed.
The fixed windows which are visible on the refurbished buildings also have hidden frames, giving an impression of floating glazing. To allow occupants to open windows for ventilation without altering the appearance of the façade, windows were installed behind the hit-and-miss brickwork, which conceals them from view, while letting air in.
The new extension is a very uniform, steel-framed rectangular building, but the design called for a very precise approach to the traditional brickwork.
The architect developed a detailed plan for the brickwork on each elevation, setting out the exact number of bricks needed to finish the edges of each elevation with a complete brick for the full height of the building, and considering the dimensions and presentable faces of each brick. The brickwork was handset by an experienced team who took pride in delivering an exceptional finish to the façade, based on this detailed key. This included the grey motifs, which contrast with the traditional red brick and mirror the motifs on the heritage buildings.
The brickwork included a curved lintel over the door, but old meets new again for the window lintels, which feature prefabricated brickslip lintels, manufactured off-site. This enabled faster installation and meticulous quality assurance, but relied on precision in the manufacture of the lintels and installation of the brickwork on site for an exact fit. Once again, the skill and attention to detail of the Hale team ensured that the brickwork was completed within the tight tolerances required for this hybrid of traditional skills and modern methods of construction.
Alongside the symbolism of the brick motifs, the front elevations also feature curved metal bands that have been set into the brickwork, creating the optical illusion of a complete circle, symbolising eternity.
Inside the newbuild extension, further design and construction challenges were prompted by the building’s dimensions. The newbuild had to be subordinate in scale to the listed buildings on the site so close attention had to be paid to the floor, ceiling and roof build-ups, keeping these as slim as possible to maximise headroom. This also meant that the Hale team had to install the building services in restricted voids.
The refurbished building had originally been constructed as residential accommodation for crematorium staff and, though Grade II listed, had undergone modifications over the years so there were no longer any heritage features in the interiors. Consequently, the task here was remodelling the accommodation to alter the layout for the occupiers, replace the windows on a like-for-like basis and remove asbestos from the roof.
Managing the programme
Throughout the 10-month programme, the crematorium had to remain fully operational. The nature of the client’s business meant that the Hale team needed to remain mindful of the sensitivities of the project at all times, and schedule work around funeral services, often at short notice. Close collaboration with the client and effective communication were vital in achieving this and it was essential for the Hale team to remain flexible at all times and maintain a very tidy site.