Death in Venice

Watch Alison’s TED talk on architecture for death and dying.

Read the Architects’ Journal review of the exhibition or Hyperallergic’s interview with the curators.

Death in Venice: the shape of death in modernity, is an independent exhibition, shown at the Ludoteca Santa Maria Ausiliatrice in Venice (Italy), from 4-11 June 2014. It showed the evolution of the relationship between modern architecture and our understanding of, and approach to, death over the last century.

The exhibition takes its theme from this year’s  Venice Architecture Biennale, which will focus on the ‘Fundamentals’ of architecture, while the national pavilions will look at ‘Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014’.

After several architecture biennales dedicated to the celebration of the contemporary, Fundamentals will look at histories, try to reconstruct how architecture finds itself in its current situation, and speculate on the future.’ – Rem Koolhaas, curator of the 14th Architecture Venice Biennale.

AM_deathinvenice-18The interactive map of places related to death and dying in London – hospitals, hospices, mortuaries, cemeteries and crematoria. The map can be ‘rubbed’ away to reveal further information about these places.

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The interactive audio-visual installation in room 2, projection on smoke.

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The third room of the exhibition, which presented infographics explaining social changes related to death and dying, as well as a collection of postcards stacked on tables, which show the spaces related to death and dying from 1914 to 2014, how they have changed and diversified.

Architecture related to death and dying used to be influential and important to the development of architecture as a discipline. Hospitals, funeral chapels and cemeteries used to set an example that would be followed, and not only in other buildings related to death and dying; these forms would set trends and define values for architecture more widely. Today, this once strong position seems to have faded away completely, despite the fact that the need for design related to death and dying is greater than ever before. With average life spans increasing, and with the rise of degenerative diseases, the period of time in which we deal with end-of-life processes has extended and with it, our exposure to the architecture of hospitals, hospices, care and nursing homes, as well as crematoria and cemeteries.

The last 100 years saw significant cultural and technological changes, leading to shifts in both our approaches to death and their expression in the built environment. With easy access to modern medicine in hygienic institutions, longevity and general health have improved on an unprecedented scale over the course of the twentieth century.

Death in Venice shows the changing landscape of death in modern Britain, the site of early developments in modern western cremation and the modern hospice movement which helped to shape a broader western context. It examines the changes that have taken place in Great Britain over the last 100 years, taking them as a point of departure to reflect on the current shape of death and the architecture which offers space for it.

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 Close up of one of the infographics which describe wider societal changes related to death, over the past 100 years.

Death in Venice is the first exhibition of the wider ‘Death in the City’ project, a touring exhibition and research project looking at architecture related to death and dying and how these buildings could be better in future.

Credits for Death in Venice:

Curation and exhibition concept: Alison Killing, Stephen Kirk, Ania Molenda, George Wilson

Graphic design and interactive installations: LUST

Exhibition production support: Alessandro Borgomainerio, AB Venice

Research: Abigail Batchelor, Rachel Engler and Magnus Weightman

PR: Giulia Milza and Maria Azzurra Rossi, mintLIST

With thanks to Sabina Arbouw, Kuno Mayr, Daryl Mulvihill and Harald van der Sluys Veer.

The exhibition was funded by a grant from the Creative Industries Fund NL and with support from EGM Architecten, Printerpro and the Death in Venice Kickstarter campaign.

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6 Replies to “Death in Venice”

  1. I found the TED video ( There’s a better way to die…) and this article quite fascinating! Thank you for writing about and publishing such an interesting concept.

    I am a Soul Midwife; sometimes known as a Death Doula. I prompt conversations about death and dying, help people talk about and plan for the event and provide compassionate companionship for people who are in their end of life journeys.

    I am particularly interested in the Postcards mentioned in this article and wanted to enquire if they are available, perhaps for sale? I run Death Cafes and think they would be a good addition to the literature left on tables for participants to take as they leave.

    Please advise if they are available and how I might be able to acquire.

    Many thanks, Melissa White

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