Tyne Cot Cemetery, the biggest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, was built by Sir Herbert Baker in 1927. The land on which it was built, was given to the British Empire for the their scarifies during the defence and liberation of Belgium.
A. PROJECT SUMMARY
Due to the increased interest for World War I in West-Flanders, visitor numbers expanded for the Tyne Cot Cemetery. The urge for an additional infrastructure for visitors became immanent. The following aspects needed to be taken into account:
- A main building providing shelter and shortly informing the visitors.
- Sanitary facilities for visitors and personnel
- A clear circuit around the old and new site.
- A parking area for busses and cars
- Solving the existing mobility problem: increasing hiking, and re-routing traffic away from the historical entry of the cemetery.
Design approach and implementation
Our approach on the new infrastructure was determined by three main points:
- The development of a volume, subordinate towards the historic site
- The development of physical axis’s that support the geographical entity of the site (cemetery, direct surroundings and the battlefield in the valley nearby Passchendaele)
- The development of a sequential circuit development when visiting Tyne Cot Cemetery.
A. Subordinate implementation towards the military cemetery
The geographical entity of the building site makes it possible to implement the main pavilion into a grass covered slope, and at the same time keeping a partial view on the cemetery, the battlefield in the valley, and also on the church tower in Passchendaele. The building itself has a minimum height and a pure and horizontal form, so that it has a very subtle integration in the landscape. The dominant role of the existing architecture of the cemetery, remains unchanged because of the rear placed position of the pavilion.
To maintain a maximal visual contact with the military cemetery, the volume sticks out forward, partially elevated above the slope, as a periscope towards the cemetery, the church and the battlefield.
B. Development of physical axis’s within the site
The direction of the rear wall of the military cemetery determines the direction in which the visitors are being drawn towards the main pavilion. After passing the parking zone, a second slope was constructed that cuts into the terrain, flanked on the right side by a straight concrete wall that has an equal height as the existing rear cemetery walls.
This first axis, cutting into the landscape, stands for an abstract spatial impression of a trench. At its end, half under ground the path becomes wider, forming the entry of the pavilion. In the direction of the landscape, this axis becomes blocked, supporting the trench like feel, and also covering up the view towards a nearby industrial site.
At the front of the main pavilion, a second geographical axis crosses the first. This axis links the church of Passchendaele, the entrance of the cemetery itself as well the battlefields of Ypres. Elevated from the grass hill this line embodies a new surface covered with pebbles, supporting the main pavilion on one side. On the other side the pavilion floats above the hillside. This second axis runs under the building and has a subtle reflection along the interior.
C. Sequential circuit development
Within the proposed circuit development, the choice was made for a sequential approach to the pavilion and the military cemetery. The old route in front of the back walls was reinstated as it was conceived by Sir Herbert Baker in 1927: a small hiking road with a ditch. The base of the sequence based concept is to inform and prepare the visitors about the cemetery and surroundings, before entering the site.
- car/bus park (+ sanitary stop)
- approaching the pavilion on the long concrete path
- visit to the pavilion
- path aside cemetery
- entry of the cemetery
B. COMMUNITY IMPACT
The coming of the centennial memorial of the first World War, combined with the new infrastructures are the two main reasons why annual visitations have nearly doubled. This increase in the amount of visitors itself is the main impact on the community of the rather small village of Passchendaele. As a result numerous economic benefits for the locals occurred.
Because of the fact most visitors come from England and abroad (70%-80%) most people see their visit to Tyne Cot as a broader journey, on which bed and breakfasts, nice restaurants, gift shops and neighbouring museums and sites are indispensable.
From the beginning of the project, the local city counsel organised a competition in which four architectural offices competed. In this way they were strongly involved in the style and philosophy of the whole project.
During the project, all information that was needed for the integration into the main pavilion, was brought together by numerous groups of people, consisting out of locals, as well as British involvement (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) and Australian involvement (Office of Australian War Graves).