The project consists of a sensitive restoration and landscaping scheme around the perimeter of an 18th century Jewish cemetery. The cemetery is a small portion of what was once the main burial ground for Sephardi Jews in London. It now sits at the heart of the Mile End campus of Queen Mary, University of London.
The brief was to integrate the site into the fabric of the University so as to improve the circulation of pedestrian traffic around the campus. At the same time, it was intended that the scheme would raise awareness of the Cemetery as a cultural asset. As a Jewish burial ground, the design and implementation of the scheme had to observe very specific religious constraints. It was essential that human remains should lie undisturbed, so the challenge was to eliminate the need for excavation. Work around the perimeter of the site also had to be approached with great sensitivity. Although burials in this area had already been removed, the possibility of even small bone fragments remaining meant that unusual solutions had to be developed to avoid disturbing the ground. The new walkway and pre-fabricated Cor-Ten stair access to the cemetery cantilever from the concrete structure of the piazza, effectively floating over the cemetery ground rather than resting upon it. Their geometry informed by the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Congregation’s interpretation of Jewish Law, which provided a specific clearance of a hand’s breadth between the top of surviving memorial stones and the underside of the new structure.