Rockwood Cemetery's All Souls Chapel has undergone refurbishment under the direction of architectural firm Weston Williamson + Partners.
Rookwood General Cemetery is one of the oldest, largest and most multicultural cemeteries in Australia. Its vast and historical landscape and diverse offerings for Sydney's culturally diverse communities has also made it one of the city's most significant heritage sites.
The art deco All Souls Chapel is undoubtedly one of Rockwood's most definitive structures. Built in the 1950s, the building remains in regular use. To ensure it remained suitable for the needs of the community, it was decided that the building should undergo renovations to accommodate a growing number of denominations and to allow for cremation services.
Sydney-based Weston Williamson + Partners was successful in securing the All Souls Chapel refurbishment project. The firm was presented with a design brief to transform a clinical interior with significant acoustics issues into a space that is warm and visually impressive. Inspired by the existing exterior decoration of the site, the firm set about incorporating aspects of it in the interior.
Flat plasterboard tiles lined the roof, though it was understood that a barrel-vaulted ceiling was hidden behind it.
"Rookwood General Cemetery’s CEO, George Simpson, wanted to expose the original ceiling," says Mark Kelly, managing director Australia, Weston Williamson + Partners.
"Following some investigation, we opened the roof to see what was possible. Working with an existing building you have to be flexible; a modular solution isn’t often suitable. A clip-on system of warm, hardwood timbers was designed and a true semi-circle vault created."
Customised lighting plays a critical part in providing the inviting atmosphere called for in the brief.
"Lighting has such an influence on making a space better," says Kelly. "Simple concepts were used in this project, including wall washing to create a warm ambience. Four custom-made circular pendant lights of various sizes were hung from the ceiling. This shape reflects the cream band that wraps around the external parapets."
When it came to exterior refurbishment, the goal was to create more space for visitors to congregate, regardless of numbers or weather conditions. An elevated podium and canopy were built to provide additional capacity while maintaining the building's integrity. A continuous herringbone tiled floor was created from the road to the altar, providing a visually impactful, seamless design. Ramps were also installed to allow for wheelchair access.
The final stage of the refurbishment was the catafalque. It was also the most challenging stage. A catafalque is a raised structure that supports the coffin during the service before dropping to hide the coffin and simulate a cremation. Weston Williamson + Partners worked with local fabricators to design the herringbone-patterned timber skin and glass screen which also included a circular pattern.
The feature allows Rockwood Cemetery to conduct a service that resembles a regular cremation without the costs and other considerations that come with maintaining a furnace. Caskets are moved offsite to a cremation facility once the ceremony has concluded. Overall, the new service offers an affordable option for families where a grave plot is not a cultural requirement.
"We are proud to have been involved with Rookwood General Cemetery to help bring their vision to life," says Kelly. "The All Souls Chapel was our first cultural building project in Sydney and its completion is an important milestone for us."