Graphic Concrete: Crafting a Sense of Place / by rebekah barnett

Custom leaf motif for the graphic concrete reliefs

Custom leaf motif for the graphic concrete reliefs

Curving and folding its way around the newly built Crematorium at the Rockingham Regional Memorial Park, a custom leaf motif designed by Slavin Architects softens this otherwise industrial building, which was commissioned by the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board (MCB) to service the Southern corridor’s increasingly dense population.

Set in bushland, the building houses cremation facilities and is also a space for grieving families to farewell their loved ones. Thus, the form must be sympathetic to the natural elements of the site, visually softened to avoid interfering with the original sense of place. It must also create a gentle, calming space to hold visitors in what is often a difficult and emotional time. Graphic concrete reliefs featuring a twisting leaf motif provide this softness, both texturally and by breaking up what would otherwise be plain, severe walls. Developed specifically for MCB, the motif incorporates illustrations of native gum leaves found on site (and indeed, on many other MCB sites), embedding the building within the landscape.

Preliminary sketches for the graphic concrete motifs

Preliminary sketches for the graphic concrete motifs

Precast concrete panels are high-pressure hosed to reveal the gum leaf motif

Precast concrete panels are high-pressure hosed to reveal the gum leaf motif

Crematorium entrance, Rockingham Regional Memorial Park

Crematorium entrance, Rockingham Regional Memorial Park

Approaching the crematiorium

Approaching the crematiorium

The process of creating graphic concrete is integral to the overall ambience created by this motif. The concrete is cast on top of a stencilled membrane which has been treated with a retardant so that, while the rest of the slab cures (hardens), the surface in contact with the membrane remains soft. The softer concrete is then washed away with a high-pressure hose, revealing the motif design in the form of a fine aggregate finish. The resulting textured surface diffuses harsh light thrown on the walls when the sun is high, reducing the glare on approach. The tonal dynamic possible with graphic concrete creates visual interest, but gently so.

The juxta-position of built structure with the surrounding landscape is quiet, unobtrusive, and the practice of cremation, while perhaps jarring in a city setting, seems part of the natural course of life in the context of this native bushland environment.

Details; graphic concrete relief

Details; graphic concrete relief

Crematorium, Rockingham Regional Memorial Park

Crematorium, Rockingham Regional Memorial Park