"The Last Terminal" by Zen Suphasek

At this point of life, you are reading this text written by me. We all sense our existence right at the moment in this realm of life. But what happens when we leave this world, and this life that you claim yours? Do we enter a new realm, or our soul just floats out of our body, or do we completely disappear from all existence? What can architecture possibly offer you when you leave this world, to the world of 'death' ?

The Last Terminal

When it comes to death, we are all related in some ways. From the beginning of human’s existence, people in around the world with different religions deal with death in their own ways. They are all aimed to honor the dead, saying the last goodbye, and at the same time, bringing an opportunities for relatives and families to come together. In Thailand, we are mostly familiar with the Buddhist way of funerals, which requires a specific religious activities that goes step by step, involving spiritual beliefs and rules that need to be performed. One crucial characteristic of Thai funerals is the absence of physicality of death. On the seventh day of the funeral, the body is cremated, leaving only ashes to be kept at home. As family and friends come together, they see death as a process of letting go, allowing the deceased to live on the next phase of life.

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In the future, death is going to be something rare. With the development of healthcare and technology, people would live a longer life. Death would become a phenomenon that no longer is a private matter. My design proposal, therefore, aims to create a public ceremonial space that integrates together the public and the private, allowing interaction between the public and the dead. It is done so with the respect on the surroundings. In the future, a new highway will be built right opposite to the site. It is going to become a traffic intersection, busy with mainly cars and vehicles. I’ve decided to propose an elevated public park that stands right on top of the road and right below the highway, providing an interaction space for the community, and a connection between the temple and the surroundings. The terminal composes of a public promenade along the river side, an elevated public park that connects the community with the temple, aiming to bring people together, while under the platform, a semi- private space for a funeral would be held.

The Ceremony

                      I want you to imagine saying goodbye to your loved one, for the last day and the last time, during the day when the body of your loved one would disappear from this world. This, is where you two are going to be parted forever, on the seventh day of the funeral. You would enter the temple, an ordinary temple you could find anywhere in the country. But upon looking closer, you would find that it is not so ordinary, when you’re attracted to a path that cuts directly into a building, as if a part of the building is consumed by this large white structure that looks like a temple. It seems like a dark pathway that leads to an unusual temple building, right under some kind of the fabric structure. You walk through the pathway that gets darker and darker, finding the contrast between the exterior of the building, and the interior of the cut, which was barer and cleaner.

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               Getting closer to the temple, you see that the temple leads to an opened exit, exposing the Chao Phraya River on the other side, but something was blocking the exit on the other end, and you couldn't yet see it. Soon after, you entered the temple. There was no roof inside, only a narrow opening which was covered by the large fabric structure standing on the platform above, making the space a bit dimmed and gloomy. Besides the sun, the candles were the only source of light. The interior space reminded you of typical temples, but in some way, it wasn’t like any other temple.

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 Walking further to the river, you began to realize that you were looking directly at a coffin, decorated with flowers and ornaments. Beside the coffin, a picture frame shows the photo of your loved one, looking at you. Then there were the familiar objects in funerals; the rows of chairs for the guest, the Buddha’s shrine on one side, and the monk’s platform seat for their blessings. You walked right to where you loved one was laying, right at the exit to the terminal, where there was the floating part of the temple, waiting to take off. You joined the guests, and performed the usual ritual procedures in the Buddhist way, just like any other funerals you have ever been to. Not long after, came the last part of the ceremony, which was the cremation. Only the family can enter the detached piece of the temple, where the cremation would be held, so you were left outside along with the people who were waiting to witness last procedure of the ceremony along the riverside and the platform above.

               Slowly, the coffin was brought closer to the craft where the crematorium stood elegant and tall. You tried to capture every single moment, for it was going to be the last. Then the crematorium chamber was opened. The coffin was slowly pushed inside the dark chamber, and, forever, it disappeared. Finally, the craft gradually took off. The fabric structure released the craft, and the land began to detach. As if not moving, the craft went further and further away, exposing the whole crematorium chimney, where grey smoke began to come out, and started to cover the white sky above, leaving no trace of the craft. Then you knew, that it was the last goodbye you had.

The Design

Religion is something static and passive, but the religious ceremony, on the other hand, is dynamic. It follows the change of time, adapts along with the society. Therefore, I've decided to use a dynamic material of ‘fabric’ as a representation of religious ceremonies for my terminal. Fabric is something flexible, and it can transform instantly from one thing to another, providing a clash between the dynamic of the city and a religious space.

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The form of the tensile fabric structure resembles the concrete structure of temples as a contrast of lightness and heaviness. It pierces through the temple school building, through the platform, directly to the detached piece of the temple, or the river craft. This creates a route that where the whole funeral ceremony would be performed, as something sequential and spiritual.

              You may now get quite a picture of how the project is like under the funeral activity. However, during other times, the terminal would become a space for the public. The fabric structure would transform into something else, instead of a temple-like form. (Show grasshopper). How it does is that it fabric would be inflated. With the gap between the fabric layer, air would be pressured in so the fabric would expand to another shape, removing the trace of a temple structure. Same with the river craft and its fabric structure. The craft acts as a final procedure of the funeral, in which the family and close friends were brought on board, to witness the cremation of the deceased. It also extend the ceremony to the city, along the river of Chao phraya, so that the dead can be witnessed by the whole city. 

The Site

                     By setting the theme of death for the project, death is explored through the context of Thailand, with the concept of Buddhist religion behind the analysis. It is believed that death is just another phase of life in which our soul leaves our body, before becoming a spirit that would either be destined to born a new life, or remain in this world as a spiritual substance.

                       The temple is the most important built objects to the death. It is where funerals and religious activities are held for them. It allows only specific activities to be held, through this architecture of temples. This makes a temple a spiritual site. In this part of the project, the site is analyzed through the Buddhist rules. The site is chosen right next to a temple, Wat Soi Thong, sets along the Chao Phraya river in Bang Sue district. It is really important to analyze the spiritual concept of how the temple affects the site as the spirit of the community, as a religious center and an architecture for the death.

The Detached Temple 
(Floating Crematorium)

               Serving as an extension of the temple, the craft is detachable so that the death can be exposed to the public, along the river, and into the city. It would become a tribute and an memorial for the death. It is going to be used on the seventh day of the funeral, as a the last part of the funeral sequence in which the body is cremated. The river craft would provide a crematorium in which the body could be cremated along the river of Chao Phraya, being very monumental and public. Because the site sets right next to the temple, in order the make a funeral public, the temple must be extended into the river, through the river craft. Therefore, the river craft must take the identity of the temple though its ornament and temple's identity. With these identities, people would be reminded of the temple when seeing the boat. All the traditional activities of Buddhist funeral can still be held on the boat, such as, the act of spreading the cremate after the cremation, in order the let go of the death. The public space on the boat can be used for celebration, either making it extremely large and attractive, or it can be held quietly and peacefully for different families.

Mooring Strategy

             The craft connects with the berth at two points. First, at the ramp that serves as a pathway in and out of the boat. Second, the fabric structure that attaches to the chimney to avoid the boat from shaking. With the joint structure, the fabric structure can open and close to adjust.

Process & Development