The 169-year-old Swan Point Cemetery, one of the first garden cemeteries in the United States, faced a challenge: how to plan and implement a much-needed expansion of its office complex and crematory, while maintaining the character of its beloved park-like grounds. The focus was to utilize the space efficiently within the confines of three bordering streets: increasing the capacity for memorial and burial gatherings. We proposed locations for two new columbaria and a new garden columbarium, pathways, and plantings so that Swan Point could have flexibility in planning its expansion with longevity in mind. The progression of vistas from partially-cloistered to open was critical in connecting this densely built portion of the cemetery with the rest of its grounds.
Swan Point Cemetery is a private, non-profit institution, and one of Providence’s premier parks. It is one of the country’s first garden cemeteries, founded in 1846. It is used by many for nature walks, bird watching and personal reflection. It has expanded over the years from one chapel/crematory and office to the 6+ buildings you see today. The project site is seen at right in red and expanded below.
Appropriate expansion of cemetery
Master planning involved selecting building program locations, additional pathways, and places for reflection. Emphasis was placed on the closeness and cloistered feeling of existing facilities, while at the same time leaving views and vistas open to the larger garden cemetery.
Progression of vistas
The area where Swan Point’s main office and crematory are located is bordered by Holly Avenue to the south, North Way to the west, and Hornbeam Road to the north. These fixed borders set the project limits, guiding the choice of partially cloistered spaces opening to wider vistas. The plan to the left illustrates the progression of views from open green space (1) where the fountain sits to a “gateway” (2) between the new reception hall and crematory. Then the view from the reception hall out to the lawn (3) opens to a wider and longer view bordered by two trees (4) that then opens to an even wider and longer view out to the lawn and beyond to the wider cemetery (5). The visitor to the grounds would experience this progression as they walked from a parking area and along the path on the south side of the crematory.
Sensitive landscape – trees and wildlife
Many old trees, including a 48” caliper copper beech, exist on the site. An eagle’s nest was found in the tree of one of the evergreens that had originally been marked for removal. As we made our plans we walked the site and roped off the footprints of buildings to be sure the most sensitive and valuable trees in terms of wildlife habitat and age were protected.
Sarah’s Garden – a place for reflection
Sarah’s Garden was a cul-de-sac, seldom used garden with beautiful southern exposure. We encouraged the client to rethink this space and its connections to the existing office and chapel. Two doors were created in the wall to the existing reception hall, along with a generous landing with steps leading into the garden. The garden itself was completely renovated: with new planting, new paving and a new layout so that the backdrop for Sarah’s statue was the chapel wall with its beautiful stained glass windows.
Care during construction
The project was phased over 3 years to minimize impacts on existing facilities and operations. Funeral services in the chapel and cremations in the existing crematory were ongoing. Phasing of the project was constrained by operation of facilities throughout construction.