For a family burial chapel in a castle park in Styria, Austria, the architects at Berger+Parkkinen were guided entirely by the old stone in the grounds

Berger+Parkkinen: family burial chapel in a castle park.Berger+Parkkinen: family burial chapel in a castle park.

The task was to build a burial chapel for a family in a castle park in Styria, Austria. This is not the everyday business for architects, and so the Austrian-Finnish firm Berger+Parkkinen came up with an unusual solution: The result is a free-standing chapel in the castle park with an archaic, minimalist tower form that draws on the traditional burial culture of human history as a point of reference, as well as the special location in the midst of old trees. “The architects created a connection to the castle within sight, using light and a vertical orientation to create the mysticism and spiritual atmosphere appropriate for a tomb,“ according to a press release.

Stone is the preferred material for graves of any kind, as the desire for durability is paramount in all sedentary cultures.

In the case of the burial chapel in the castle park, there was sufficient old masonry available on site. This local stone comes from a farm building mentioned in documents more than 800 years ago, which had collapsed a long time ago. It can also be found in the retaining walls and with the masonry of the castle‘s foundations.

This stone, with all its peculiarities, thus became decisive for the design and the architects succeeded in creating a material-aesthetic connection of the new building with the castle: The new walls were thus created from the remains of old walls, a fine example of sustainability and a cycle through direct reuse of existing demolition material.

This is also a good example of sustainability and the circular economy.

Berger+Parkkinen: family burial chapel in a castle park.

But: Not all stone is the same and this local stone has its peculiarities. “Rough hewn and very rustic, it does not lend itself to fine geometric shapes; even edges are difficult to make. This material shows its effect best in the surface.“ says Architect Alfred Berger. Thus, a decisive parameter for the design was defined.

Berger+Parkkinen: family burial chapel in a castle park.

The final solution was found in the development of a very simple form without edges. The result was a round solitaire that calmly and powerfully takes up its position in the landscape. Timeless like the walls of the castle, but clearly contemporary in the precision of its design.

The tower, which tapers slightly towards the top, has only three openings. The gate and the narrow window, are recessed with prefabricated, sandblasted reinforced concrete frames in natural stone. The third opening is formed by a circular hole in the ceiling slab.

A double-leaf door leads into the chapel space on the averted side from a small vestibule. The narrow window opposite provides a view of the castle tower. Through this visual axis, the Chapel of the Dead is connected to the Castle of the Living.

Berger+Parkkinen: family burial chapel in a castle park.

The consecrated interior is brightly lit even when the door is closed, flooded with sunlight that enters through an opening in the ceiling. The round hole provides a view of the sky. The light coming from above emphasizes the height of the room, creating a vertical orientation.

Architect Alfred Berger calls the burial chapel “a building freed from compromising functions” and quotes Adolf Loos, who wrote in 1908 in “Ornament und Verbrechen” (“Ornament and Crime”): “Only a very small part of architecture belongs to art: The tomb and the monument. Everything else, everything that serves a purpose, is to be excluded from the realm of art.“

The architects Berger+Parkkinen continue: “So we were dealing with a borderline area of architecture, an area where otherwise determining themes such as function have little influence on the design. It was therefore necessary to find a new approach, as a basis for the actual design work.“

Berger+Parkkinen

Photos: Ana Barros

Plans: Berger+Parkkinen

Berger+Parkkinen: family burial chapel in a castle park.Berger+Parkkinen: family burial chapel in a castle park.

(12.02.2024, USA: 02.12.2024)