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ROGERS BRINGS CEMETERY TO LIFE

AGENDA

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) director Amarjit Kalsi and associate Davide Costa are in a meeting room in the firm's Hammersmith headquarters.

They are overlooking a grey Thames, but their minds are hundreds of miles away in the hustle and bustle of sunny Naples.

This is because Kalsi and Costa are poring over images and the practice's plans for the Santa Maria del Pianto metro station - a proposed extension to the southern Italian city's multi-billion euro Metro Linea 1.

RSHP is already working for the same client, Metropolitana di Napoli, on its Capodichino metro terminal.

The airport station is one of Italy's busiest transport hubs; fuelled not only by thousands of jetsetters, but also by people wanting to visit the region's famous cemetery - Santa Maria del Pianto [SMdP].

The problem facing Metropolitana di Napoli is twofold. Santa Maria del Pianto - which roughly translates as the 'Tears of the Madonna' - is cut off from the Capodichino transport hub by an extremely busy dual carriageway.

Secondly, since its creation in 1762 the cemetery has expanded rapidly, and with space at a premium, it has been a while since the newly departed have been buried there. 'The cemetery includes warehouses. They are building vertically, creating filing cabinets of bodies, ' says Kalsi.

In this devout region of Italy, a pilgrimage to the last resting place of one's dead relatives is not the sombre, private affair it is in the UK, and this means that at certain times of the year carnival-size crowds descend on to the area.

'You have to understand the culture of Catholicism in the south of Italy, ' says Costa.

'[SMdP] is not a city of the dead; there's a constant pilgrimage of people visiting their dead relatives.

'These places can be a mass of cars and in peak time, when up to 25,000 people visit, there is no parking and no public transport. You can imagine the problem, ' adds Costa.

To solve this predicament the team - which also includes Paris-based landscape architect AWP and Arup Traffic - 'exploited the contours of the site to let gravity bring people into the new station'.

They have also melded a terraced 1,500-space car park into the site, which will be clad in vegetation representing the regions from which the visiting pilgrims have travelled.

While the SMdP cemetery is clearly 'the hook' for the 40-50 million euro (£26-34 million), 42m-deep station, the local government hopes it will also act as a catalyst for growth in what is currently a neglected, inaccessible area.

Indeed, Kalsi admits that Naples itself is 'not a pretty, pretty city.' Instead he describes it as 'a vibrant, fabulous city with an edge to it'. When Metro Linea 1 is delivered in 2017, it will be much easier to see for ourselves.

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