When Lakewood Cemetery’s existing Memorial Mausoleum began to run out of space, there was no option to expand, remodel, or tear down and start anew. Each wall represented so much more than an assemblage of load-bearing beams; every nook and cranny represented someone’s final resting place. Lakewood’s approach to a new, second, mausoleum building was different than most other U.S. cemeteries. Instead of pursuing a cost-effective design/build structure, the 141-year-old Minneapolis institution held a design competition, seeking a structure that would meet basic needs and fulfill the long-standing desire of the board of trustees for beautiful buildings—as far back as 1908, they demolished a chapel because they felt it “did not fit with the beauty of the cemetery,” says Lakewood president Ronald A. Gjerde Jr.

So the stakes were high for Joan Soranno, FAIA, and her team at HGA to take on a historic setting and an unfamiliar typology. “Contemporary architecture today is very edgy and it wants to provoke … [but] when you come to a cemetery and you’re sad, and heartbroken, and grieving, you don’t want to be provoked,” Soranno says. The design process “was always under the lens of: Is it timeless? Is it serene?”

The Lakewood board was won over by Soranno’s passion—she admits to reading nearly 20 books on the subject before the interview—so much so that they readily agreed to an unconventional resiting. Initially, the board assumed that the new structure would be entirely above-grade—one reason that mausoleums have become popular, Gjerde says, is because “some people just don’t like the idea of being buried in the ground.” But HGA posed a radical alternative: Embed the bulk of the building into an existing hillside, “because the true power of this place is its landscape,” Soranno says.

The result is that the new 24,500-square-foot Garden Mausoleum, by intention, largely fades from view. From the street, all that can be seen is a 5,500-square-foot granite pavilion that sits amid a verdant landscape. The pavilion is clad with hand-laid courses of dark-hued, split-faced granite block. The texture of the stone was critical, Soranno says, because “touch is such an important part of commemorative architecture; we wanted materials that were very tactile.”

To the side of the pavilion is a green roof (which reads from this level as a lawn) marked by a row of carefully graded berms, each of which culminates in a bronze-collared skylight. These glazed openings are either rectangular or circular in form; each shape denotes crypt or columbarium rooms below, respectively.

Surrounding the bronze entry doors that lead into the rigidly orthogonal pavilion are a series of soft curving planes covered in a marble and glass mosaic. Project team member Nick Potts, AIA, oversaw 20 iterations of patterning before the team found one that struck the appropriate balance between geometric and organic forms. Installation took nearly two years to complete because of the freeze–thaw cycles of Minneapolis winters.

Inside the pavilion, hand-rubbed plaster ceilings and white marble floors of the foyer give way to a multipurpose reception space with plaster and warm mahogany walls. The attention to detail is impressive: Even the letters in the exit signs are carefully outlined in plaster so as not to interrupt the surface of the wall.

But it is down a flight of marble stairs to the lower level that the bulk of the program lies. Beneath the pavilion are a committal chapel, a grieving room, and a mechanical space. To the east is the long corridor off of which the columbarium and crypt rooms are situated. Clad in marble, wood, and stone, and filled with filtered daylight (either from the skylights or through windows that look out onto manicured gardens), the rooms are a suite of subtle permutations on the same theme.

It is important to remember that there is a retail component in play, and not an inexpensive one. Single crypts at Lakewood Cemetery range from $7,500 to $25,810, and single niches can cost more than $8,500. With 879 crypts (which hold coffins) and 4,620 niches (for cremated remains), the new Garden Mausoleum “can extend our economic life by 75 to 100 years,” Gjerde says. More than that, the decision of where one is buried is, well, rather permanent. If all the floors were green, it could discourage someone who didn’t like that color from choosing the facility. As a result, there are crypt and columbarium rooms with skylight views or garden views, with floors in green-, pink-, or honey-colored onyx, and with wood or plaster ceilings.

This level of careful consideration of every detail made the Garden Mausoleum an all-consuming project—but it was also a personal one: Lakewood is in Soranno’s neighborhood and she and project architect John Cook, FAIA, married in the cemetery’s 1910 chapel. Soranno still visits the new building, where she and Cook have purchased space, every weekend. “I pull weeds. I straighten,” she says. “This is our eternal resting place. It has to be pristine.”

Lakewood Cemetery Garden Mausoleum

Project Lakewood Cemetery Garden Mausoleum, Minneapolis
Client Lakewood Cemetery Association
Architect HGA Architects and Engineers, Minneapolis—Daniel Avchen, FAIA (principal-in-charge); Joan Soranno, FAIA (design principal); Stephen Fiskum, AIA (project manager); John Cook, FAIA (project architect); Nick Potts, AIA, Michael Koch, AIA, Eric Amel, AIA, Steve Philippi, Jay Lane, Ross Altheimer, Robert Johnson Miller (project team)
Structural Engineer HGA—Paul Asp, Soon Sim Hakes
Mechanical Engineer HGA—Craig Lemma
Civil Engineer HGA—Jim Husnik
Electrical Engineer HGA—Ben Gutierrez
Lighting Designer HGA—Tao Ham
Interior Designer HGA—Rich Bonnin
Graphic Design HGA—Gretta Fry
Owner’s Representative Nelson, Tietz & Hoye
General Contractor M.A. Mortenson Co.
Landscape Architect Halvorson Design Partnership—Craig Halvorson, Bryan Jereb
Master Plan Elizabeth Vizza
Mausoleum Consultant Carrier Mausoleums Construction
Acoustic Consultant Kvernstoen, Rönnholm & Associates
Audiovisual Consultant Electronic Design Co.
Reflecting Pool Consultant Commercial Aquatic Engineering
Mosaic Tile Consultant CSI—Tom D. Lynch
Size 24,500 gross square feet
Cost $25.2 million (including 4-acre site)

Materials and Sources

Audiovisual AVI-SPL avispl.com
Bronze MG McGrath mgmcgrath.com; Ellison Bronze (doors) ellisonbronze.com; Livers Bronze Co. (handrails) liversbronze.com; Stuart Dean (finishing) stuartdean.com
Curtainwall, Skylights, and Windows Empirehouse empirehouse.com
Exterior Stone Cladding M.A. Mortenson Co. www.mortenson.com
Electrical Hunt Electric huntelectric.com
Furnishings Parameters parameters.com
Glass Barber Glass Retail barberglass.ca; Viracon viracon.com; Architectural Glass Art againc.com
Interior Stone Cladding and Flooring Grazzini Brothers & Co. (marble, terrazzo, onyx) www.grazzini.com
Irrigation Green Acres Sprinkler Co. greenacressprinkler.com
Landscape Aloha Landscaping alohalandscaping.com; Sterling Arbor sterlingarbor.com
Mechanical Egan Co. eganco.com
Millwork Commercial Millwork Solutions commercialmillworksolutions.com
Mosaic RBC Tile & Stone; CD Tile & Stone (installation) www.cdtileandstone.com
Plaster Armourcoat (polished) armourcoat.com; Pyrok (acoustical, Starsilent) pyrokinc.com; Olympic Cos. (installation) olympiccompanies.com
Pre-assembled Columbaria Eickhof Columbaria www.eickhofcolumbaria.com
Signage Designer Sign Systems designersign.com
Stone Cladding and Pavers Cold Spring Granite coldspringgranite.com; CD Tile & Stone (paver installation) www.cdtileandstone.com
Waterproofing Spec 7 Group spec7group.com