The practice of cremation has become increasingly prevalent recently in many western countries. Cremation is now more widely accepted in these societies as a reaction to the ever-increasing consumption of land for burial, but also as a more environmentally acceptable alternative to burial by demonstrating a lower overall carbon footprint.
Traditional in-ground burials require surprisingly large amounts of resources and produce significant waste by-products - now recognized as having significantly negative environmental effects. As the adoption of cremation grows, a variety of creative options for how and where ashes can be scattered are being introduced into ceremonial and ritual approaches.
Designer Diane Leclair Bisson contributes a new typology to the design of urns. These new designs play a central role in bringing new meaning to emerging rituals, while also further minimizing the ecological footprint.
Her MORTAL | DESIGN and DEATH project has been developed collaboratively with Memoria - an environmentally and design-driven Canadian company whose core mission is to develop innovative, sustainable options in the funerary practices sphere.
The Ice Urn is a deeply sustainable object in its essence. The concept of making a dissolvable memorial object through the transformation of water into a solid form of ice – while encapsulating cremation ashes within it - is truly innovative. It is the most immaterial urn ever created, and it inspires new types of water ceremonies as well as a completely new approach to the idea of burial itself - emphasizing new thinking about the return of the body to the natural environment, and of water back to its original source.
This concept is the result of fieldwork research on people's experience and perceptions of contemporary funerary material culture. This research provided insight into the interrelations between objects and their associated rituals. The Ice Urn is designed for the dispertion of cremated remains in a stream, lake, in the ocean - or even in soil - and allows for vastly personalized ceremonies. The concept also results from technical research on creating a sealed container of ice, shaped with a cavity that can hold a large volume of ashes that can retain its shape and floatation for the duration of the ceremony. The Ice Urn minimizes the carbon footprint considerably by producing re-usable shaping moulds, and employing low-energy freezing methods.
The Ice Urn is naturally conceived to embody a wide range of physical shapes. The first design recalls the sheets of melting springtime ice found floating in bodies of water, which translates the idea of fluidity, lifecycle and passing through time. The shape also addresses functional handling requirements by offering large flat surfaces easy to cradle and transport with.
This project exemplifies the contribution of design as a means to reflect on the recent transformation of funeral practices among industrial societies. It also illustrates the importance of rethinking the funerary material culture, particularly linked to cremation practices, which still remains attached to a traditional esthetic that does not always reflect the needs of new practices and the meaning people may assign to them. Furthermore, it exemplifies the minimalist material approaches that can be explored to reduce the significant ecological footprint of traditional Western funerary practices.
Environmental criteria underlying the development of the method for making the Ice Urn include 1) reducing the quantity of materials used for making the urn; 2) choosing or developing materials that will dissolve leaving little or no trace of waste; 3) materials that have no or little impact on the environment; and 4) choosing a low carbon footprint production process. The Ice Urn exemplifies a circular ecological approach by using water to create an urn that will return to its original state in a water environment. In this regard, it is a zero-waste product.
The method of making the ice urn employs a low-energy consumption process. Water is readily available and, as such, represents a resource that needs substantially less energy to be produced than do existing biomaterials used for making urns. Water does not need to be stored or transported to a manufacturing plant like existing biomaterials used for making urns. Although there are no available life-cycle analysis studies (LCA) providing data on waste emissions and potential for causing environmental harm between biomaterials used for making water-soluble urns, water is clearly a low footprint material in comparison to all other transformed materials.
The method of making the Ice Urn may use one or more moulds to be
placed in an energy-efficient freezer. There is no need to produce Ice urns in advance. As such, the process eliminates the use of large storeroom freezers for storing the urns and dramatically reduces the carbon impact to only on-demand requirements.
The production process is based on producing two-part urns that are assembled once ashes are placed inside. The thickness of the ice walls (± 4 cm) and the inside volume of the two parts allow the urn to float. The two parts are assembled by freezing process. The ashes are placed in a loose or frozen form in the open cavity, and the urn is completed by adding and freezing a liquid into a final predetermined closed shape. The method of creating ice urns and accompanying mould designs developed for production were patented in 2015.
Loved the strong emotional impact of ashes being mixed with nature.