Life and Death
From my own perspective, Haaga is an area that lacks of an attractive point to local residents or visitors. The infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, domestic shops or religion spaces only offers basic support to local residents. There are no cultural facilities nor diverse leisure or public space. It seems like Haaga is struggling to find an identity, but at the same time it is located in a nice position in the city of Helsinki and surrounded by wonderful nature. In this way Haaga shares many features with aging suburb around the world.
Central Park is largest green area in Helsinki. Haaga holds part of central park.
According to the research of Haaga and Central Park, it can be assumed that around the 19th century, people were welcomed to jog, ski and pick berries or mushrooms around the wild forest. At that point, it was just a wild area with development.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Central Park had been designed by the Architect Bertel Jung and the City Council approved his plan in 1914. Included in his design, many kinds of sport facilities were built in the park, which allow a lot of outdoor and indoor activities in this area. Central Park is one of the important elements in Helsinki. It contains around 7000 hectares of forest area and a variety of ecosystems. Central Park forms a unique natural scene because of its environment.
Something I found attractive in Hagga is “animal cemetery”, which is located in the boundary between Northern Haaga and Kivihaka, also a part of Central park. It is the only pet cemetery in Helsinki and the public cultural space.
The Animal Cemetery and the surrounding Central Park offer a natural way to help people heal themselves, like wandering through the forest or sitting deep in thought by a tree. From this, many questions emerge. Can it be a different form of mourning? How can architecture offer another environment to do this? What roles have animal cemeteries and shelters played in the past 150 years in Haaga? I think it is worthy to ponder those questions.
The History of Animal Cemetery
According to the literature, the first animal cemetery in Finland was founded in 1927 in Ruskeasuolen Helsinki and moved to Central Park in Haaga in 1947. The Animal cemetery is maintained by the Helsinki Humane Society HESY – The Helsinki Society for Animal Protection. Most importantly, all the place and its tombstones are the property of their owners.
Going deeply through the history of HESY, it is the pioneer in animal protection in Finland. In 1870, Zacharias Topelius founded the first Finnish Animal Protection Association “Maj Föreningen”, to protect small birds. This validates that the fundamental idea of protecting animals existed in Finland around the 19th century.
The Value of the Animal Cemetery
Pet cemeteries provide a field to help people cope with the emotion associated with death. It can be seen as a valuable property of life-education for everyone, especially children. There are approximately 3000 tombs arranged in Central Park and they seamlessly blend into the forest. Pet owners decorate the tombs for their pets. This area strongly shows love and a sense of loss for all kinds of pets. Many animal cemeteries were built around the end of the 19th century and the mid 20th century. For example, Kaknäs in Stockholm, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in New York and Cimetière des Chiens, Cemetery of the Dogs in Paris, which was declared to be a first animal cemetery in this modern world (1899). Nowadays, many pet cemeteries are operated by animal shelters.
An Increasing Number of Pets
This affection with animals that started hundreds of years ago continues today. The bar chart below shows the total proportion of households that have a pet in Finland, divided into 5 different family sizes, in 2012 and 2016. In 2012, 30 percent of households had a pet. In 2016, around 35% of families had a pet. Based on the research from “Statistics Finland”, in the first half of 2016, households had a total of around 800,000 dogs, while in 2012 the number of dogs was some 630,000. It seems that an increasing number of households have two dogs to keep each other company.
Percentage shares of households owning pets in 2012 and 2016 (3 November 2016)
A beautiful story in Haaga
My intent is to clarify what can I do in Haaga based on my personal background and recent research. I am focusing on Central Park and The Animal Cemetery because they are vital, diverse elements in the city. They act as both public and the in-between spaces. A beautiful story then emerged in my mind. It can be assumed that the total inhabitants and the density of residential area in Haaga will not change significantly in the next 20 years because a lot of cultural, economic, educational and appealing environments have been established downtown. From this, my design project for Haaga will give attention to seeking its own special character and reusing the original resources in this area instead of depending on newly-established urban planning or developing a more commercial atmosphere.
I believe that the cemetery has the potential to become a component to contribute to a thriving Haaga, and this is why I select its site to redesign. Apparently, the Animal Cemetery is the unique, public cultural space within this area. Pet owners tend to bury their pets in the cemetery for many reasons. The most obvious one is they are forbidden from burying pets in certain places. Also, this cemetery is the only animal graveyard service in Helsinki, which means people will come to Haaga for this specific propose. So, we can try to imagine how the design project offers space not only to local residents but everyone.
Let’s Create a Woodland Playground!
A traditional cemetery is a space that functions for a single and specific reason. However, the real meaning of cemetery emerges when people come and mourn. Tombs are placed randomly like sculptures and play a role as a part of the city landscape. On the contrary, the field of an animal cemetery consists of a completely different atmosphere because of the close relationship between people and pets, and the lack of religion. Furthermore, since Finns admire leisure, entertainment and sports activities, Central Park offers a wonderful nature field and a place to establish relationships within Haaga. As I mentioned before, Haaga is struggling to find an identity. There are few cultural facilities nor diverse leisure or public spaces. So, let’s create one which includes the Animal Cemetery.
I have created a custom-made questionnaire to roughly understand local residents and their relationship with Central Park and the Animal Cemetery.
Based on the feedback, half of local habitants have been to the Animal Cemetery and most of them feel warm or neutral without fear within this area. According to the descriptive answer to no.8, people consider the Animal Cemetery as a place that is not suitable to spend time because it is a crowded, disorderly looking area. Remarkably, if people had no pet buried here, they view themselves as outsiders, and tend to not disturb graves. However, there are some thoughtful and interesting opinions. For instance, some residents would love to stay in pet graveyard if it is a park or the atmosphere is more comfortable. Also, some mention it will be enjoyable to share experiences about each other’s pets and some say sometimes the writing on other tombstones from other pet owners are attractive.
How Do People Reminisce Their Pets?
Recent research found that mourning a dog can be harder on a person than mourning a family member or friend. (Frank T. McAndrew, 2017. Why losing a dog can be harder than losing a relative or friend.) Professor Frank points out some reasons behind this situation. Firstly, the way people mourn their pets is totally different from mourning their own kind. When it comes to traditional mourning, there are some cultural services such as grief rituals, religion and obituaries to help us get through the sense of losing a loved one, but none of these services are made for losing pets. Moreover, the concept that “it was just a dog” also repress the emotional response of pet owners. It is both noted in the article and the research I conducted that some people do not understand the over-attachment to pets.
A New Type of Cemetery
Different cities around the world are finding new, non-traditional ways to mourn. The main goal of the new type of cemetery is to address issue concerning the rising land usage of graveyards and to protect the environment from damaged by certain toxic materials in coffins or air pollution from cremation. A novel funerary practice called Anaerobic Bio-Conversion was recently invented by Columbia GSAPP DeathLAB. Roughly, it is a disposition that occurs within discrete Anaerobic Bioconversion Vessels — utilizing microbial methanogenesis to break down organic matter — distilling the corpse to its basic chemical and biological components. Then, the energy — light, which represents the new form of tomb/ grave, will be produced through the generation of methane via anaerobic carbon cycling. The only argument against this contemporary mourning way is the lighting duration of a single person’s death is temporal. Because of the continual series of death from everywhere. Death will never stop. The most vital thing is to heal the sense of losing a beloved one, no matter human or animal.
Proxemics Theory and Social Mixing
According to Proxemics Theory (Edvard T. Hall: Proxemics 1963), Hall described the interpersonal distances of humans (the relative distances between people) in four distinct zones: (1) intimate space (2) personal space 1.5 ft/0.45 m (3) social space 4 ft/1.2 m (4) public space 12 ft-25 ft/ 3.6m-7.6m.
Proxemics can be associated with Social Mixing (Gehl Institute, 2017, The Public Life Diversity Toolkit 2.0). Social mixing occurs on a spectrum from being alone, close friendships and a series of contacts. The Gehl Institute believes the spaces from a street system to benches can play a role in creating tolerant and inclusive communities for people. This underlies good urban design. These ideas will be an important design concept in my project. I observed some people jogging, cycling, walking their dog, taking a stroller and some elders sitting and chatting (12pm- 2pm) around the Animal Cemetery. Some pet owners came to mourn and redecorate their pet’s tomb or trim the plants around the tombs. A woman spent around one hour a company with her dog and lit candles. There are some benches located here, but no one used them. Feedback from questionnaire number 11 shows that around 45% of residents have talked to strangers. Looking deeply through the survey and my observation, current environment around the Animal Cemetery mainly offers a pet’s owner to visit, but diverse activities happen in the west side of Central Park. Obviously, there is a lack of social mixing in this site.
- Moving the current site left to gathering roads and improve the chance to communication with people who pass through or go there for a certain purpose.
- Transition of Tombs: Finding a way in which the tombs can easily be replaced because of limited ownership. Based on Anaerobic Bio-Conversion (Columbia GSAPP DeathLAB), trying to use lighting-posts to represent each tomb, and turn them into a piece of installation art.
- Offering opportunity for social mixing: Opening the site and putting other functional spaces like a dog park and a playground.
- Creating paths within this site. At the same time, every post acts as a sensor to light the space and guide people to the pet monument. The installation art attracts passerbys following custom-routes.
- According to the four distinct zones of Proxemics: Categorize public space, semi-public, semi-private and private spaces.
The site to be divided into 3.6(m) x 3.6(m) squares as the limit of widest social space. Customizing these posts to three different sizes to distinguish public, social and personal space.
- Public space: A space larger than 3.6 m radius allows little or no contact. This is especially true for those who like being alone or are used to staying a proper distance from strangers. The dog park and playground are suitable for this large space. However, the park’s facility would shorten the distance between users, which can enhance social mixing.
- Semi-public space: 1.2-3.6 m radius space allows passive, chance contact between strangers. This certain scale of zone provides a comfortable space eye or hearing contact between people. Therefore, the opportunities of random contact such as sharing experience are increased, for people who are both walking their dogs or asking for directions. Social mixing/Civic mixing particularly happens in this zone.
- Semi-private space: 0.45-1.2 m radius zone can be adapted for the closer relationships between family and friends.
- Private space: It stays an intimate space. During personal visit to the Animal Cemetery, mourning, strolling or quiet contemplation, people need private and silent spaces to heal themselves and memorialize their pets. Different lighting-post define invisible square, where social mixing occurs. Then, these invisible squares develop into real space. The same memorial rules remain on the wall. People are welcome to walk through and read the writing on the walls about every pet who has been loved. The space will be surrounded by memory and peace.
Central Park. [Online] Available at: <https://www.hel.fi/hel2/keskuspuisto/eng/1centralpark/>
Helsinki Humane Society HESY (The Helsinki Society for Animal Protection) [Online] Available at: <https://www.hesy.fi/hesy/>
The number of pets owned by households is increasing, Households’ consumption 2016
Official Statistics of Finland (OSF): Households’ consumption [e-publication].ISSN=2323-3028. 2016. Helsinki: Statistics Finland [referred: 14.12.2018].Available at: <http://www.stat.fi/til/ktutk/2016/ktutk_2016_2016-11-03_tie_001_en.html>
Hanna Antila, 2018, ”Murre, olit kaikkemme” – eläinten hautausmaalla näkyy kaipaus. [Online] Available at: <https://www.kirkkojakaupunki.fi/-/-olit-kaikkemme-elainten-hautausmaalla-nakyy-kaipaus>
Gehl Institute, 2017, The Public Life Diversity Toolkit 2.0. [Online] Available at: <https://issuu.com/gehlinstitute/docs/20160128_toolkit_2.0>
Brown, N. (2001). Edward T. Hall, Proxemic Theory, 1966. CSISS Classics. UC Santa Barbara: Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science. [Online] Available at: <https://escholarship.org/uc/item/4774h1rm>
The Conversation, Frank T. McAndrew, 2017. Why losing a dog can be harder than losing a relative or friend. [Online] Available at: <https://theconversation.com/why-losing-a-dog-can-be-harder-than-losing-a-relative-or-friend-68207>
Columbia GSAPP DeathLAB, ANAEROBIC BIO-COVERSION. [Online] Available at: <http://deathlab.org/anaerobic-bio-coversion/>