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Foto: Shai Epstein

Gateway to another world: Canopy over mourning pavilion in Israel

The mourning halls at Jewish cemeteries have to fulfil one requirement only – the casket with the deceased should leave the building at a different door to the one through which it entered. At the mourning hall in Pardesia, a small community between Tel Aviv and Haifa, the architect Ron Shenkin has made this requirement the starting point of the building's geometry. The result, a pavilion open at the front and back, basically consists of three elements: a base slab that leads down to the cemetery along wide steps and ramps, a folded concrete canopy and 15 tree-shaped steel pillars painted white.  

When a funeral takes place, the family of the deceased and other mourners forgather under the canopy, the former having approached the building from the south to enter it at its rear; the remaining mourners reach it from the cemetery at its north. The massive concrete canopy provides shade all day long. Ron Shenkin has inserted openings in its sides at two places only. One is a narrow slit at about eye level on the western side for a view towards the Mediterranean on the horizon and the sunset; the other is a gap at the rear of the opposite side to enable an oak tree – the only one left of the trees that once grew at the site – to emerge through the structure at its rear.  

This single tree plays a symbolic role. Wanting the pavilion to recall the numerous orchards and fruit groves that existed in the surroundings before they were replaced by the concrete and asphalt of new development, Ron Shenkin has placed 15 steel "trees" at the side of the oak tree and left imprints of leaves on the concrete floor, created by strewing them onto the formwork when the concrete was being cast. 

Ron Shenkin compares the shape of the canopy roof with the path that man takes through life – from dust to dust, with many ups and downs in-between. The canopy was cast in-situ, whereby its planning was a challenge in itself: to achieve as regular a shuttering effect as possible and to avoid ragged edges, the formwork was planned at the computer, including the 305 panels of differing size and shape that make up the canopy – 125 on its upper and 180 on its lower side.

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