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Chipperfield takes on death in Venice

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David Chipperfield Architects has beaten 145 architects including Enric Miralles in a competition to extend the San Michele cemetery on an island between Venice and Murano, Italy.

The extraordinary site, which includes a fifteenth-century church and convent, has been in continuous development for over 400 years but, the architect feels, has consequently lost its character as an island. The practice intends to re-establish some physical and tectonic qualities, taking the project forward over two phases: the first will involve the addition of a series of new courtyards, a crematorium and a chapel to the burial grounds of the existing cemetery. In the second phase it will construct a 'new' island with gardens at water level, outside the walls of the existing cemetery. This will both create a relationship between the gardens and the lagoon and provide new views of and from Venice.

The San Michele extension comprises four main elements: the courtyards, buildings, tomb buildings and the gardens.

Courtyards are formed by the wall tombs. Some of them contain gardens, others individual graves, and they develop the spatial organisation of calli, campi and courtyards. The courtyard

Buildings are grouped together to form a suggestion of a settlement, recalling the historic context of San Christoforo della Pace, with service buildings grouped around the small harbour, an area framed by the church and the crematorium, which in turn confront the two main campi.

Wall tombs and family tombs are organised into enclosures, creating gardens rather than the current random placing of trees and shrubs. The tomb buildings, in the second phase, are built on a strip of land separated from the island by a canal, suggesting it as a new island or 'critique' of the original. Three tomb buildings at the bottom end sit as sculpted blocks around another courtyard. More family tombs are contained in a long linear building stretching up the new strip.

Gardens, at the top and bottom of the plan (right), effectively 'outside' the walls of the cemetery are at water level and provide views from and of the island as well as reinforcing a relationship between the gardens and the lagoon.

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