Making a somber cemetery a bright, lively space : The Eden Paradise Memorial Resort honors natural beauty

Nov 18,2017
A bright church located right above the ossuary gives a feeling of consolation to a family in mourning. Instead of a dark and heavy mood, bright sunshine sheds light on the corridor of the ossuary. [JEON HO-SUNG]
Some see a funeral as a celebration of life in the same way that a first birthday party is a joyful occasion.

A little hotel called Eden Paradise Memorial Resort, recently opened up in Icheon, Gyeonggi, and a brief internet search shows that it is a good place to hold a birthday or garden party. But Eden Paradise is also a home for those who have passed away, as there is a cemetery located on its grounds.

Choi Si-young, the architect who designed the resort, confidently says that funeral culture will change once more visitors experience Eden Resort. “I don’t want people to feel obligated to visit their deceased family members just once or twice a year, but to stop by whenever they think of them.”

However, the concept of building a cemetery that is also a shared space for the living hasn’t been met with enthusiasm. He has to fight against the stereotype that cemeteries should be gloomy and somber places.

But, the architect is known as a trendsetter in the design community, and has a history of breaking stereotypes in the past. When he took charge of interior design at Dogok Tower Palace, which finished construction in 2002, he reduced number of bedrooms in an apartment and instead created libraries and small music rooms.

It was an unprecedented housing format at that time, since the number of rooms in an apartment is commonly fixed according to the size of the house.

He also jumped into the world of agriculture in 2013 and designed Farmers Daddy, a garden cafe located in Gwangju, Gyeonggi. The cafe became popular of its use of “planterior” design - using flora to decorate the inside of a space.

Choi Si-young, the architect who designed the Eden Resort, wishes to change the culture of funeral ceremony. [JEON HO-SUNG]
A quiet place to say goodbye

As the resort is more of a lush garden than a grim funeral home, there is a lot of space for quiet and contemplative strolls.

The first thing that greets visitors at the resort are the gardens which are filled with about 150 to 200 different species of flowers and plants. At Eden Resort, there are a variety of gardens for people to explore, such as the pond garden and a prayer garden, all available to visitors.

Bees fly over the colorful flowers, and the beautiful flowers imbue energy to the home of the spirits, which could have instead been a dark dwelling.

On the grounds, there lies a glass garden - a signature feature of many of Choi’s design. Yongin, Gyeonggi-based greenhouse cafes Farmers Daddy and Alex the Coffee were designed by Choi and have become known for their unique use of space.

The glass house at the resort is a tea house, which sells scones that are made with a recipe from two famous bakeries.

Noh Hee Kyung - CEO of YG Food is in charge of the restaurant, which is a branch of the All Day Fresh Kitchen located in Yeouido, western Seoul. The popular Seoul restaurant is known for its sunny interior and delicious menu, and the resort’s location has created buzz among the eatery’s fans.

The restaurant in the resort benefits greatly from the vegetable garden just steps away from its kitchen. Fresh vegetables including cucumber, tomato, broccoli, cabbage and more are used in many of the dishes on the menu.

The cemetery is located in the basement of the small church behind the hotel within the resort.

The basement is very bright, and is connected to an outdoor garden filled with ivy and tall scouring rushes.

1. The view of Eden Paradise Memorial Resort from a hotel room on the grounds. 2. There are many gardens where the families of the deceased or the visitors can take a quiet stroll. 3. A garden which is connected to the basement of the church. A family scatters the cremated remains of their loved one in front of the hand-shaped statues. 4. The garden located in the center of the resort. [JEON HO-SUNG]
The space is filled with nature here and the sun shines brightly through the corridors. “If there were more ossuaries, it would be more lucrative for me, but I wanted more spaces between each urn. I wanted to make a space where one can quietly contemplate, and not feel scared,” added Choi.

Since the space is bright, people may find more comfort in performing the last rites of a funeral than they would in a gloomier, darker setting. After placing the urn in the ossuary, families of the deceased are able to walk along the garden as they walk away from the funeral ceremony. “I think the bright atmosphere here creates the mood where the family cannot cry so sadly,” said Choi.

A quote inscribed on the wall of the resort is also impressive: “The more one gardens, the more one learns; And the more one learns, the more one realizes how little one knows.”

The words, from British poet and a gardener Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), captures the message that Choi hopes to convey to visitors.

Bringing life and death together

The merging of spaces at the resort is still difficult for some people to understand when they visit. Is it a peaceful garden, a luxurious hotel or a somber funeral home?

Choi said, “There was a review written by a guest who said that they at first felt hesitation because if they were staying at a hotel where bones were buried as well, but they changed their mind completely after visiting.”

Reactions to this resort are generally the same. At first, guests naturally imagine a dark and shady house filled with ghosts, but soon change their minds and see it as a peaceful sanctuary filled with angels.

In an interview with JoongAng Sunday, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, Choi discussed why he wanted to create a bright space for what is commonly seen as a dark part of life.

Q. How did the process of creating this space began?

The land itself was actually in the process of having a hotel built on it. The base was already up, and the architect who was in charge of the hotel came to me and confessed the worries he had after knowing that there will be a hotel built by a renowned conglomerate company nearby. So I advised him to build a small vegetable garden inside the hotel to use it as a differentiation strategy. But he refused saying, “That doesn’t make sense.” At that moment, minister Joseph of Jesus Hope Presbyterian Church was looking for a place to build a cemetery, and so the process of creating this place began.

Were there any objections to a cemetery hotel with a vegetable garden and cafe?

At first, everyone was shocked. It is mainly because the atmosphere at a funeral is not commonly bright and joyful in Korea. Even Joseph, who really advocated for the hotel thought, “Who will come to the cemetery to have a cup of tea?” So I showed him [the green house cafes] Farmers Daddy, and Alex the Coffee located in Yongin, Gyeonggi, both of which I have designed. He said, after seeing people looking through the gardens of the cafes, he thought “Do people actually come to those cafes?” and I answered, “That’s what people dream of.”

Why do you think people are becoming increasingly interested in natural things?

I personally like what English philosopher Francis Bacon said: “It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man; without which buildings and palaces are but gross handiworks; and a man shall ever see that when ages grow to civility and elegancy, men come to build stately sooner than to garden finely; as if gardening were the greater perfection.”

I believe the green-light filters noise in the world and mud from the city. I always thought that people would find consolation from nature, but the trend came faster than I expected.

The idea of staying at a cemetery for long isn’t quite familiar in Korea. Do you think that will change?

Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles is where people like Michael Jackson are buried. It is the first park that became a cemetery and a park simultaneously. People hold wedding ceremonies inside the small church in the park. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan got married there as well. Graveyards are where loved ones are buried, and it is also a place where one can inherit the deceased’s memory and spirit. So it shouldn’t be dark, but very bright. Don’t you think people’s minds may change if they actually start realizing that they will die one day?

BY HAN EUN-HWA [hong.youkyoung@joongang.co.kr]

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