Un-Decorated Death

Taboo on acknowledging death has made death into a suburban ranch house, as seen in this mortuary for John F. Summerill. Here the very association that people intended to avoid is inadvertently redrawn. The home once was the primary site of a natural death. Death's institutionalization emphatically removed it from the home, so much so that the old deathbed scenes common in paintings now seem morbid and unreal. The Daphne Funeral Home, a regionalist riff on Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, gives new meaning to the Swiss architect's commandment: "The right angle is lawful, it is a part of our determinism." [1] The Wessendorf Mortuary in Santa Cruz speaks the language of the strip, replete with the car and electrical lines, recalling Robert Venturi's division of architecture into ducks and decorated sheds.[2] If death's duck is the Gothic, whose form exactly expresses its function, then death's decorated shed is the mortuary home on the strip. Passed at thirty miles per hour, its facade is blank while its sign would mean everything. The application of columns is now a cliche of the funeral home.

[1] Le Corbusier, The City of Tomorrow and its Planning, New York: Dover, 1977

[2] Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenou, Learning from Las Vegas. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1972