When I had first studied the Woodland Cemetery in university, it was during a class on landscape architecture. I remember it was an assignment on the comparison between the Skogskyrkogården and Spain’s Igualada Cemetery, two predominately different designs by fundamentally different architects.
At the time, Igualada seemed much more interesting. Looking at photos and plans of the two cemeteries in the architecture library located on a quiet street in Toronto, the rawness of Enric Miralles’ design seemed so much more dynamic.
The one single image that remained in my memory of Woodland Cemetery was the giant cross against a barren sky. Asplund’s cemetery looked charming, but failed to register as a particularly interesting piece of design. From photos, it felt slightly boring.
And yet, some buildings need that visit to appreciate its design. From stepping off the metro at Skogskyrkogården station and walking up the road that led to the cemetery itself, the experience felt somewhat familiar, almost as though I had been through the experience before. Even from the street approaching the cemetery, the dark cross rose from the grass field.
There’s something about the experience of visiting a place that you had been so familiar with from photos and research. Wahen that place turns out to be just as you imagined, that sensation of familiarity registers as a pleasant strangeness. You realize it’s not only the familiarity in aesthetics that registers, but a familiarity in experience.
The sense of calmness and serenity that is conveyed in the photos becomes magnified upon reality. The elm trees which formed the focus of the meditation hill sways gently in the wind, while the shadows casted on the statue at the crematorium reveal details which go unnoticed in still photographs.
The entire experience of Skogskyrkogården is immensely powerful in its subtleness. The feeling of somberness that carries through from the photographs makes visitors experience the progression of death in a way that soothes the suffering of passing. It is within that subtleness which lies the power of Asplund’s design.