“The first step in the design process was to check our egos at the door,” says Joan Soranno, FAIA, the design principal at HGA who oversaw design of the Lakewood Cemetery Garden Mausoleum. Melding beautifully into the cemetery landscape, the mausoleum commemorates life and legacy, and the architect’s selflessness in design resulted in a structure that has a timeless elegance.
Minneapolis’s Lakewood Cemetery, a handsomely landscaped nondenominational and nonsectarian cemetery where many prominent Minnesotans are interred, carefully considered the design process rather than constructing a mundane mausoleum structure. The Minneapolis office of HGA was selected in large part because Soranno impressed the cemetery association with intense interest and knowledge. She read numerous books on funerary symbolism, commemorative architecture, cemetery design, memorials, and Sweden’s Woodland Cemetery, which was designed by Gunnar Asplund.
With Soranno’s knowledge and HGA’s close collaboration with the cemetery, the firm made an important siting suggestion: tucking about three quarters of the building program into a hillside.
This minimized the structure’s mass and allowed the landscape by Halvorson Design Partnership to be the dominant feature on the street level. Soranno acknowledges that Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. was an inspiration for the concept of descending into the earth and coming back up as a metaphor for death.
The exterior of rough, split-faced gray granite and white mosaic tile is an intentional contrast in textures—light and dark, rough and smooth, rustic and refined. Glass doors at the front entrance are sheathed in bronze grilles that repeat the circular motif of the intricate mosaic tiles surrounding the entrance. Here, the patterning was clearly inspired by Louis Sullivan. The entrance leads to an interior of mahogany walls that are warm and varied in texture in contrast to the white marble from Alabama. Soranno understands that tactile qualities are an important aspect of remembrance.
Only about 5,500 square feet—primarily a reception hall and a small business office—of the 24,500-square-foot structure is above ground. A staircase draws visitors to the lower garden level where a 45-seat chapel holds committal ceremonies. Its soft curves and indirect light through bronze-framed window recesses, taken together, remind one of Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp. “The light discretely filters into the space to heighten a sense of serenity and peace,” Soranno says. “Rays of light—in which the actual source is not immediately apparent—can be a powerful experience.”
Stretching eastward from the garden level lobby, a single long hallway—modulated with light and dark spaces—strings together alternating rooms of columbaria for cremated remains and crypt rooms for caskets. The mausoleum can house about 10,000 people mostly in columbaria, with less than 1,000 crypts. The alternating bays each have a different floor of pink, honey, or green onyx so that visitors can visually identify each space. Bays to the north are entirely below grade with circular oculi above columbaria and rectangular skylights in crypt rooms. The crypt rooms and interstitial columbaria to the south of the corridor each have large windows overlooking the landscape.
“I believe there is a very close relationship between nature and spirituality,” Soranno says. “Many people feel connected to God or a higher being in nature. We wanted to heighten that experience, to create an environment where this transformative experience happens through a close connection between the architecture and nature.”
Honored with the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s 2012 Artist of the Year award for her design of the mausoleum, Soranno saw this project as a true labor of love. She and her husband, architect John Cook, FAIA, also at HGA, live near Lakewood, were married in the remarkable chapel at Lakewood built in 1910, and have purchased a columbarium in the mausoleum.
“I felt an enormous responsibility,” Soranno says, “to all the families and individuals that might one day visit the cemetery and ultimately choose the mausoleum as their final resting place.”
Architecture project team
: Daniel Avchen, FAIA; Joan M. Sorrano, FAIA; Stephen Fiskum, AIA; John Cook, FAIA; Nick Potts, FAIA; Michael Koch, AIA; Eric Amel, AIA; Steve Philippi; Jay Lane; Ross Altheimer; Robert Johnson Miller; Paul Asp; Soon Sim Hakes; Craig Lemma; Ben Gutierrez; Jim Husnik; Tao Ham; Rich Bonnin; Gretta Fry.
: Nelson, Tietz & Hoye.
: M.A. Mortenson Company.
: Halvorson Design Partnership.
: Elizabeth Vizza.
: Carrier Mausoleums Construction, Inc.
: Kvernstoen, Ronnholm and Associates.
: Electronic Design Company.
: Commercial Aquatic Engineering.
: Tom D. Lynch, CSI.
: Amourcoat, Ltd. ; Cold Spring Granite; Intertile; Olympic Companies; Pyrok, Inc.; Santucci Group.
: Anderson Ladd; Cold Spring Granite; Grazzini Brothers; Nero Marquina; Santucci Group; Unique Carpets.
: Bocci; Color Kinetics; Flos; Fontane Arte; Nippo; Nulux; Specialty Lighting Industries; Williams.
: Bega; Hydrel; Winona Lighting.
: Ellison Bronze, Inc.; FSB (hardware).
: Architectural Glass Art; Barber Glass; Empirehouse; M.G. McGrath; Viracon.
: Mechoshade; Sina Pearson Textiles.
: Andreu World; Azure; Bernhardt; Bright Chair; Knoll.
: Bernhardt; Bright Chair; Decca; KI.
: Ellison Bronze; Livers Bronze Co.; M.G. McGrath; Stuart Dean.
: Designer Sign Systems.