With a Palette of Wood and Glass, a Midcentury Modern Office Building Transforms into a Full-service Funeral Home and Chapel

The chapel and adjacent new-construction space devoted to the crematorium also act as a structural anchor for the building, which helped make it more seismically resilient in response to increasingly stringent local codes. Although neighboring California is more famous for its earthquakes, the Pacific Northwest is overdue, seismologists say, for what’s known as a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake of great magnitude.

To make the public entrance clearly visible while camouflaging the service entrance, a canopy extends over the glass entry on the south side of the building while the service entrance on the north side of the building was clad in the same exterior tongue-in-groove cedar as this portion of the facade.

To make the public entrance clearly visible while camouflaging the service entrance, a canopy extends over the glass entry on the south side of the building while the service entrance on the north side of the building was clad in the same exterior tongue-in-groove cedar as this portion of the facade.

Although the building took on new roles and added square footage, the original office remained, separated from the lobby with a maple-paneled wall that gives way to clerestory windows above to bring light from the lobby to employees’ workstations. The offices also connect to a private hallway that allows staff to circulate throughout the building and to the crematorium on the north side of the building without coming into contact with (and thus potentially disturbing) the public gathered in the lobby and chapel during services. “There is an efficiency in that space that works extremely well,” Corbett explains. “Having that ability to move from the office past the arrangement rooms into the back work-area [for cremation] worked pretty seamlessly.”

Because of the existing cemetery vehicular paths and grade changes—the building borders a nearby road closely—the front facade of the building needed to provide the main public entrance and the service entrance.

To differentiate between the two and make the public entrance clearly visible while camouflaging the service entrance, a canopy extends over the glass entry on the south side of the building while the service entrance on the north side of the building was clad in the same exterior tongue-in-groove cedar as this portion of the facade. Although the original office structure and the first-floor base of the building are clad in stone, to maintain and emphasize the horizontality of the original Midcentury building, a thin band of this cedar cladding runs along the entire front facade above the stone. “We needed the chapel and the chimney to feel like all the same space,” LoNigro explains.

While the chapel itself rises to the building’s greatest height, the north edge of the building—a chimney enclosure—rises to 19 feet to accommodate the clearance requirements of the cremation equipment below. It too is clad in vertical-grain cedar while the upper portion of the chapel is given a different cedar cladding, its surface lightly charred, similarly to the Japanese shou shugi ban technique but not blackening the material so much as adding a darker tint.

The chapel and adjacent new-construction space devoted to the crematorium also act as a structural anchor for the building, which helped make it more seismically resilient in response to increasingly stringent local codes.

The chapel and adjacent new-construction space devoted to the crematorium also act as a structural anchor for the building, which helped make it more seismically resilient in response to increasingly stringent local codes.

For Corbett, the Gethsemani expansion was the culmination of a 20-year vision. “This was truly a long journey to get this done,” he says. “But it was helpful to have that time to really think about how it might function and how you might build it. Now people walk in and say, ‘Wow, this does not feel like a funeral home to me.’ I’d like to think it’s a little more uplifting.”

Retrofit Team

ARCHITECT: DiLoreto Architecture, Portland, Ore.
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Mark Jacobs Construction
ENGINEER: WDY Engineers, Portland

Materials

EXTERIOR WOOD SIDING: Tongue-in-groove cedar, clear finish (Yakisugi 1- by 6-inch shiplap cedar)
STONE: Arizona sandstone
INTERIOR CHAPEL WOOD: Tongue-in-groove SVG Douglas fir (1- by 2-inch slats)
MAPLE: Plain sliced paneled veneer

PHOTOS: Pete Eckert

About the Author

Brian Libby
Brian Libby is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance design journalist, critic and architectural photographer.

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