Life After Waste: Architecture from the Posthumous Human Body

Upon death, the human body meets the same fate as trash — either finding residence within a landfill in the form of the cemetery or passing through an incinerator during the process of cremation. On the other hand, the process of natural burial allows the organic human body to return its nutrients to the earth in a matter of months, but remains largely unpopular. Interestingly though, the bones of a decomposed body will remain long thereafter and similarly, while the organic body during cremation completely vaporizes, bone ash is all that remains. Composed of calcium carbonate and phosphate pentoxide, in a sense bone can be understood as an inorganic architectonic material that grows inside of us; it is perhaps not a coincidence that of past civilizations what we have left is their buildings and their bones. Serving as the structural system of support for the body when it was alive, manufacturing the bones of naturally-buried humans into load-bearing architectural elements emerges merely from a glint of common sense. In fact, it is little known that fine bone china is composed of 50 percent animal bone ash and that the material introduces translucency, water resistance, and compressive strength to the porcelain recipes that it is added to. If we are to better understand our self-destructive relationship with inanimate objects, perhaps we can learn something from the way that we treat our own bodies. Paradoxically, by building death into our lives and learning to face its presence earnestly, structures built from the anonymous remains of those who came before us might redefine how life, death, and waste is conceived of in the Anthropocene.