The small Arluno Graveyard, just outside Milan, does not present any particular architectural interest. Its original layout and subsequent expansion apparently form a homogeneous whole, but its only strength seems to reside in the enclosure, which delimits the space, and subtracts it from the generic nature of the surrounding space to return it with wider values.
Today the portico perimeter that contains the columbary encloses a multitude of Funerary Chapels which have depleted the open space of the Campo Santo, dotted, as in its older part, with tombs from which a stone landscape arises, rich of sacred symbols, tombstones and inscriptions.
The construction of Graveyard Chapels in Italian graveyards nowadays constitutes a catalog of low-quality architectural objects that mostly expose the kitsch formalism of a doubtful appeal to the past.
The opportunity to build a Funerary Chapel interested us from the beginning for two main reasons: firstly the challenge represented by the smallness (the building has a 4 x 3 mt footprint due to the requirements of the cemetery regulation); secondly, precisely for the occasion to conduct a profound reflection upon the meaning of burial places and practices, starting from the small, if not minimal, scale.
What does it mean to design a small place of worship within a larger sacred space such as that of a cemetery? It means, first of all, to grasp the intimacy of the place, its uniqueness, its dimensions, its essence. Only starting from the awareness of these features it has been possible to create this small funeral chapel, capable of combining religion and familiarity, faith and domestic intimacy.
A small parallelepiped volume completely covered in sandblasted Botticino marble slabs is positioned to complete a series of other chapels. Its "leading" position towards the visiting paths and the entire cemetery structure offered the project an extraordinary opportunity to transform its role: from a small family building to a totemic symbol, behaving as a designative and referential element for the surrounding sacred space.
Therefore, its image becomes pure, and its compositional language abstract.
The references to religious iconography is devoid to make room for one single cross that propagates in every direction becoming a sort of exoskeleton made of polished stainless steel profiles which, distancing from the masonry, is capable of expressing an ideal intention: to lift the stone volume from the ground, raising it towards the sky, making it free from the gravity of its weight.
The choice of a setback basement and the absence of a perimeter sidewalk allow the gravel to reach the core of the artifact, passing below that line of shadow which, like a brown "edge", separates the stone from the soil. The volume is also cut in the transverse direction by a glass slit, permitting access following the layout of the niches.
Hence, the object behaves like a portal in the east-west direction, with dark windows emphasizing the extent of the passage between inside and outside. The threshold connects the external space to the internal one, and is capable of returning to the ancestral relationship with the sky and its cycles; the continuous variation of light is reflected on the translucent windows that mark the entrance.
Inside, eight niches are arranged in an east-west direction, superimposed in four rows with the last line of ossuaries that close the space up to the internal ceiling. The Botticino slabs that cover the entire building have a smooth finish, thus varying the hue and distinguishing the polished inside from the rougher exterior.
The burial niches cladding are spaced with stainless steel profiles that draw lines between the niches contrasting the horizontal trend of the internal cladding with the vertical momentum of the overall volume perceived from the outside.
Marco Bozzola Graduates in Architecture at Politecnico di Milano. He coordinates the International Architecture and Urban studies Workshop in Bergamo from 1996 to 2004. He is a Ph.D. fellow and Architectural and Urban Design Professor at Politecnico di Milano. He is a Counselor for urbanism and territorial government for Novara Municipality from 2011 to 2016.
After many collaborations and partnership experiences, in 2010 he founds MBA. The studio operates in Novara and Milano, working on projects at different scales with specific attention to the recovery of the built environment.
He participates in many competitions and he is recognized awards and prizes, among which the First Prize for the Technologic Park for National Radioactive Wast facility by SOGIN (2016) and the First Prize for West Sports Park in Chengdu, China (2019).
His projects and essays are published in Italy and worldwide.