Recompose | Seattle
Recompose | Seattle
Recompose Seattle is the world’s first full-service funeral home to provide “natural organic reduction,” also known as human composting, to the public. Designed in collaboration with Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of the Recompose public benefit corporation, the facility converts human remains into organic soil, helping nourish new life after death. Recompose offers a third alternative to traditional burials and cremations that uses one-eighth the energy of cremation and saves over one metric ton of carbon dioxide per person.
The 19,500-square-foot flagship facility effectively turns the traditional funeral home inside out. Throughout the site and building, references to nature – including a mural on the exterior façade, a living green wall in the reception area, the hexagonal shape of the composting vessels, and the colors and textures within each space – highlight the link between the Recompose process and natural cycles, as well as the positive impact of this personal decision. The composting cycle takes about 60 days and results in one cubic yard of healthy organic soil, which can be collected for personal use or donated to the 700-acre nonprofit land trust and sustainable forest at Bells Mountain.
The Recompose facility is located in an industrial district within Seattle’s SODO neighborhood. An oversized mural wrapping around the building features an array of plants against a background of dark, healthy compost; the mural and an entry garden differentiate Recompose from its neighbors while underscoring connections to nature. Inside, the visitor pathway is bright and intuitive, featuring warm wood flooring, earth-toned furnishings and a living green wall behind the reception desk. Additional rooms for shrouding (the storage and preparation of bodies), client meetings and quiet reflection radiate from this central lobby, with glimpses of the main ceremony space beyond.
Within the ceremony space, the design avoids overt religious markers, instead framing a flexible and meditative space where families and friends of all backgrounds feel welcomed and included. Strips of inset green glass create a dappled effect, like light filtering through the forest canopy. This glazing also frames small views to the hive-like array of hexagonal vessels, providing transparency into the process while maintaining acoustic separation. An oversized tapestry on one wall features an aerial view of the sustainable forest at Bells Mountain, where donated soil supports ongoing conservation efforts, subtly referencing the far-reaching impact of natural organic reduction.
A transitional vessel links the ceremony space to the back of house areas where human remains are transformed into natural, organic soil. Here, family members and friends may participate in a laying-in ceremony, akin to a traditional funeral service; organic materials laid by loved ones accompany the body through the threshold and on its continued journey within a Recompose vessel. A line of poetry written by a Recompose team member is inscribed within the transitional vessel, highlighting the design’s sensitivity to the experience of the dead as well as the living. The ceremony space also includes the technological infrastructure to host virtual ceremonies, further reducing the environmental impact of after-death care.
Inspired by the Recompose process and attention to natural cycles, the design approach deliberately preserves and celebrates the industrial heritage of the existing site and building. Administrative and working spaces throughout the new facility likewise prioritize the health and well-being of Recompose team members. Skylights and an enclosed, unconditioned porch on the upper level bring natural light into interior workspaces, while careful acoustic dampening throughout the large back of house areas reduce the impact of equipment noise on staff.
Katrina Spade first began working with Alan Maskin in 2015. In 2016, the Recompose team completed a Creative Exchange Residency at Olson Kundig where Spade and her team of architects and engineers designed the first prototype of the Recompose vessel. Alan, Katrina, Blair Payson and others continued to work together to refine both the process and design, including an initial concept for a Seattle headquarters facility that preceded this project. As a result of Katrina’s ongoing work and advocacy, Washington became the first state to legalize human composting in 2019, later joined by Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California and New York; similar legislation is continuing to be proposed and reviewed across the country. Alan Maskin continues to serve as a member of the Recompose Advisory Council.
I’ve been fascinated with Katrina Spade’s alternative burial concept since she shared it with me years ago, and Olson Kundig is honored to work closely with her team on the design of the first Recompose facility in the world.Alan Maskin, Design Principal
2022, 365: AIGA Year in Design Award Winner, Social Design Category
“6 In Case You Missed It…” The Architect’s Newspaper, Jan. 2020, 6. Print.
Enlow, Clair. “Recompose: Speeding Up the Natural Death and Life Cycle.” ARCADE, Summer 2020, 22-27. Print.
Ryder, Bethan. “A matter of life, death and compost.” The Observer Design, Winter 2020, 24. Print.
Kiley, Brendan. “Recompose, a composting alternative to burial and cremation, finds home in Sodo.” The Seattle Times, 19 Nov. 2019, A7, A9. Print.
Sheets, Megan. “Inside the world’s first funeral home dedicated to human composting: ‘Recompose’ is set to open in 2021, offering an eco-friendly alternative to cremation and burial by turning deceased loved ones into nearly one square meter of soil.” The Daily Mail, 9 Dec. 2019. Web.