I recently came across an award-winning proposal for a funeral urn made of ice. The frozen vessel containing the ashes of a loved one can be floated away to dissolve slowly into nothingness. I think it's a simple beautiful idea and it made me think about how there are some objects that get redesigned over and over (the chair, the clock, the corkscrew) while others rarely get any attention at all. Of course it's no surprise that designers aren't clambering to redesign the funeral urn. We live in a culture that wants to contemplate youth and ignore aging and death. I once spent an evening at an event called death over dinner. It was held in a church and I didn't know most of the attendees. We sat in groups eating and talking about death - our experiences with it, fears about it, hopes - it was incredibly liberating.
I often spend time at the Mountain View cemetery, especially in the Chapel of the Chimes, beautifully designed by Julia Morgan. My favorite rooms have urns shaped like books, so you have the sensation of a whole library made up of people's lives. Even there, surrounded by death, it's easy not to really think about it. I think instead about this recent opinion piece in the New York Times and how it's at once logical and counterintuitive. Thinking about death makes you happy to be alive. How wonderfully designed life is.