Katherine Isaac
Theories of death, ritual, and space: evolving the funeral typology in twenty-first century Canada

Advisor: Susan Close
Internal Examiner: Kelley Beaverford
External Examiner: Karen Wilson-Baptist

Distinguished among design typologies by its unique program that bears responsibilities to both the living and dead, and by its nearly exclusive claim on those services it offers to the public, funeral space performs a significant role within Canadian culture. Interest in the funeral home was provoked by the recognition of its peculiar station in the discourses of gendered space; there is a dearth of research on the topic within the design fields. Despite the availability and continuing development of research on the topics of death, loss, and ritual in the fields of thanatology, religion, and the social sciences, these processes have yet to be fully explored int he context of the built interior environment. My thesis asks: How can interior designers more effectively accommodate changing social practices in funeral space in Canada?

In my study, changing death rituals are examined through post-structural analysis of texts, images and spaces, framed by a variety of current discourses on death drawn from the fields of psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and cultural analysis. My research is also grounded by interviews with funeral industry professionals and experts in the field of thanatology and ritual. Concepts drawn from each discourse frame new ways that funeral spaces can materialize as meaningful environments, powerful in their ability to deconstruct and reconstruct the ritual experience. Findings support that differences in meaning are now being reinterpreted in death rituals to reflect cultural mutability, and the shift towards new performance of ritual is well established. Designed space for funeral ritual cannot be conceived as reflecting a homogeneous rite, but must acknowledge the individuality of each unique celebrated person. Additionally it should provide opportunities for congregation, spontaneity, privacy and memorializing. Interior designers must approach the funeral typology from an informed stance, understanding that space for death in Canada today is influenced by various cultural conditions through which experience of death is mediated.

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