Bushey Cemetery and Prayer Halls, London – Projects
Community & Public
- Waugh Thistleton Architects
- United Synagogue
- Bushey Cemetery, Waugh Thistleton Architects
Bushey Cemetery is the UK’s most significant Jewish cemetery, located on a 16-acre site of outstanding natural beauty in London’s Green Belt, just north-west of the city. Elliott Wood worked with Waugh Thistleton Architects to deliver an additional location that extends the existing adjacent cemetery, so that it may continue serving numerous communities in London and Hertfordshire. The scheme was widely lauded for its contextual and cultural sensitivity, and in 2018 was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.
Jewish funeral customs defined the design, from the gathering of the mourners to placing earth in the grave. The two prayer hall buildings are constructed from rammed earth, a traditional building material that is extremely robust, but can also biodegrade. The material is designed to last for 25 years, at which point the cemetery is estimated to be full and require another adjacent site and the current structure can be dismantled and recycled. The concept behind this design – of a building that rises from the ground and, after serving its use, returns to the ground – reflects the importance Judaism places on bodies returning to the earth.
Using rammed earth is highly sustainable, and in this case even more so, since we used materials found on site, which reduced delivery traffic. The material is typically unstabilised, though, which shortens its lifespan. To address this, Elliott Wood stabilised the material by adding a small amount of cement and sand aggregate, which also enabled it to achieve the modern forms in the design. Another issue was that the UK does not have the ideal climate for rammed earth, which prefers dryness. However, this can be overcome with high-quality workmanship. Elliott Wood undertook extensive research and testing, and worked with rammed earth experts from Australia to deliver the ambitious 7m-high structures. The other materials used – exposed concrete, Glulam timber and corten – respect the natural setting of the Green Belt and suit the pared-back, honestly engineered design.
The project was delivered in two phases. The initial enabling works phase involved the installation of major civil engineering and landscaping works, in which a series of swales, weirs and ponds were introduced to help maintain natural drainage on the site and provide new habitats for wildlife. The second phase saw the construction of the prayer halls and associated buildings.
With their “simultaneously monumental and poetic qualities,” as described by Jay Merrick in the Architects’ Journal, the Bushey Cemetery buildings provide respectful, “spiritually charged” spaces for the sacred rituals of Jewish burials.