John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Who's up for getting stuffed into an egg-shaped sack and growing into a tree?
To date there is no verified service guaranteeing that after you die, you'll be reborn as a majestic, high-flying eagle or a fearsome tiger roaming the jungles of Sumatra. But to believe Italian designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel, there is a chance that in death you could become a real, if slightly less-spectacular bit of nature—say, a leafy shrub beautifying a street corner in Rome.
That's the idea behind "Capsula Mundi," a proposed method of using corpses to enhance the urban canopy that's up for nomination in 2015's INDEX: Award. Traditional burial practices come with a slew of problems, argue Bretzel and Citelli. Funeral plots take up space, and many cities like London and Washington, D.C., are running out of room for bodies. There's also the fear that embalming fluids could contaminate the environment, not to mention that wooden coffins require the destruction of trees.
Rather than continue with tombstones and chemicals, the designers suggest we turn toward no-frills "green cemeteries." The funeral planning would begin while people are still alive, as they gather their loved ones and tell them their favorite kind of tree or bush. Then, once their souls pass from this worldly realm, they'd be stuffed in the fetal position into egg-shaped sacks and buried around town. Trees planted above them would suck their nutrients and grow into towering firs, stately silver birches, gnarled olives, or horse chestnuts.
For many this idea must sound gruesome. (And indeed, a similar concept has repeatedly popped up on NBC's serial-killer drama, "Hannibal.") But Citelli and Bretzel lay out a few reasons why it's worth considering:
The growth of a tree needs from 10 to 40 years and a coffin is used for three days. Capsula Mundi is produced with 100% biodegradable material, starch plastic. The starch is taken from seasonal plants such as potatoes and corn. Capsula Mundi saves the life of a tree and proposes to plant one more. By planting different kinds of trees next to each other it creates a forest. A place where children will be able to learn all about trees. It's also a place for a beautiful walk and a reminder of our loved ones.
As this type of feral burial is forbidden by Italian law, the human-fertilizer system is stuck in limbo for now. The design duo hope to change that through a lobbying effort—so, hey, get in touch if you want your flesh to one day become olives on the table or juniper berries flavoring your children's gin.