top of page

This project combines three modules in my Masters course, which concerns designing for grief and rememberance.  I designed a conceptual web plan and media for a website that speculates how people will be remembered in the future.  This includes personal web pages on the deceased, QR codes for graves and an environmentally-friendly burial process including biodegradable urns.

For the module Grief, Loss and Memory, I was tasked to speculatively design objects that signify the loss of a loved one and how their memories live on.  The subject of death, while daunting at times, is often prominent in many dramatic pieces of fiction, usually to portray a sense of reality that is commonly shared in human society.

My initial research concerned how the theme of death and grief can be over-romanticised in popular culture, especially gothic literature and dramatic films.  The first name that came to mind in the over-romanticism of death and grief in literature was Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote macabre short stories like Lenore (1831) and Ulalume (1847) that recurrently romanticise the death of a beautiful woman and the broken-hearted man left to grieve for her.  One of the best examples of his work is a short poem called Annabel Lee (1849), which narrates how a man whose love of his life dies at an early age and presumably for the rest of his life, he clings onto the past by visiting her “in a sepulchre by the sounding sea.”  The most well-known of his work is the poem The Raven (1845), which ties in with the death of the main character’s wife Lenore, suggesting the outlet of his overwhelming grief comes in the form of a shadowy raven that domineers over him.

This sort of over-romanticism of grief found in Poe’s works reflects his unhealthy obsession with the subject (which could have played a role in his untimely death in 1849).  However, he has been posthumously lauded and critically appraised for his captivating legacy into the love of the darker side of life, especially with Gothic horror, ghost stories and death.  This in turn influenced a Gothic subculture, before the rise of the rock music scene in the 1970s and the prominently darker scene in the 1980s, with such bands as Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Sisters of Mercy and arguably The Cure.  The gothic subculture glorifies the beauty in darkness and death, outside of the conventional jolly aspects of life. 

Death on screen, particularly dramatic films, garnished the subject of death and made clear of the various effects and aftermaths of a significant loss.  The Gothic action film The Crow (1994) romanticises the idea of a murdered man returning from the grave through supernatural forces to avenge his and his fiancé’s murders by killing the thugs involved.  This was a cinematic retelling of the graphic comic series of the same name written by James O’Barr in 1989, who wrote the series as an outlet of his grief after the death of his fiancé.  With this fact in mind, the idea of using one’s own grief to create an artistic piece to signify how much the loss engulfs the artist opens a window into a grieving mind and connect it with the spectator’s own perceptions of grief.

Discussing death among families should be a serious issue, especially for impressionable children that may be oblivious to death.  Fortunately, Disney released Big Hero 6 (2014), which explores the main character grieving the loss of his older brother and befriends his robotic invention to fight crime with a team of his brother’s close friends.  The main character, a young teenager, goes through an emotional journey from initial isolation to determination in balance and justice to anger at finding his brother’s sacrifice was needless to eventually accepting his loss.  Despite the film being an animated science-fiction superhero feature, the depiction of the main character’s grief is the more realistic approach in presenting the issue.

The Oscar-winning film Ghost (1990) has a curious and poignant idea where it not only concerns Demi Moore’s grief for Patrick Swayze but shows Swayze coping with his own sense of loss for living.  After being mugged and shot, Swayze’s ghost stays in “the mortal realm” and befriends psychic Whoopi Goldberg to protect Moore from a shady conspiracy that were responsible for his death.  With this film being a dramatic thriller with supernatural undertones, and technically a “tear-jerking chick flick”, this film helps take the portrayal of grieving more seriously as The Crow.  While The Crow glorifies the vengeful act of righting a wrong, Ghost gels the realistic emotions the characters go through with the supposed rules of being a ghost.  Interestingly though irrelevantly, Ghost is among the first of many that popularises variable rules of being a ghost, like Casper (1995) and The Frighteners (1996).  Tying into the film’s famous pottery scene between Moore and Swayze, and my previous experience in pottery design, I developed an idea to design my own urn for this module.

Picture 2.jpg

It has been my desire to have my ashes join the fertilisation of a large tree.  Designing my own urn, which my ashes would ideally be left in, was a morbidly fun task.  It was as profound as planning my own funeral, although that process usually concerns choice of music rather than the final plans for disposing of my remains.  The idea for my urn is to have my ashes mixed in with soil and seeds of oak or yew tree.  The lid would take the form of a skull and the tree would sprout out from the mouth.  This takes the idea of a new life produced from the remains of a deceased form, where their ashes or corpses become a source of botanical fuel for plants.

The average proportions of a standard urn, according to, depends on the weight of the deceased.  They claim that professionals have adopted a rule of thumb, where one pound of body weight is equal to one cubic inch of urn space.  However, they suggest a standard size of five inches depth and six inches width.  (  Although in the case of my urn, the skull on the lid would have to measure at least double the circumference of the urn in order to get the jaw to open and close.

Inspired by the ongoing global climate crisis, I proposed that any personalised urn should be made with biodegradable materials.  The container of the ashes and soil would be made of wicker or bamboo due to their porous proportions that would assist the tree or plant to take healthy root.  Other components of the urn would introduce a newer use of biodegradable “plastic” or even cork that dissolve into the earth and feed the sprout of the tree or plant.  (  Using these materials would not only benefit the environment but would likely speed up the fertilisation of the planted plant or tree.

Picture 3.jpg

Once the idea of a personalised urn was brought to the table, it eventually led to the possibility of a global service that would produce and provide individual urns.  This sort of business would hire sculptors and artists to design custom-made urns out of biodegradable materials.  This could potentially lead to a combination of graveyards and public gardens, even having a sort of QR code that identifies the ashes the tree or plant was grown from.  A QR code or other forms of identity would be optional, depending on the wishes of the deceased and their families.

The idea developed further to let these urns be left into a graveyard wall to grow a creeping plant around the otherwise plain wall.  This could develop a sense of community among the deceased and serve as a comfort for their grieving families.

Picture 8.jpg
bottom of page