• Date: 01/03/2019
  • Cemetery: GMCT Home

How can we create cemetery landscapes that endure through time?

GMCT’s planning and design team is working to meet the needs of our communities for generations to come, imagining new memorial spaces to last in perpetuity – forever. 

Hamish Coates (pictured) works as a landscape architect in GMCT’s planning and design team, envisioning the cemeteries of the future. 

Hamish studied landscape architecture at RMIT University and worked in the field for some years. Plans and protractors eventually gave way to the sketchbook and paintbrush, as he undertook studies in fine art.

Since his move back into the landscape architecture field, Hamish has worked on fascinating projects: streetscapes, water-sensitive design, ‘pocket’ parks in urban areas and other projects to revive community open space.

Now he is drawing on his passion for art and sustainability at GMCT as he designs memorial parks for Melbourne’s fast-growing urban sprawl.

The art of landscapes 

Designing for cemeteries is complex and challenging. Making the space beautiful is paramount, Hamish says, but his creative concepts must also weave together the natural landscape, heritage protection considerations, flora and fauna, infrastructure, roads and the layout of memorials.

 “A cemetery design is a work of art, rather than ‘put a path here, trees there’,” Hamish says. “Being equipped with artistic knowledge, it helps with designing green spaces in a more meaningful way than just prettying them up.”

Making landscapes meaningful is key to the design of brand new cemeteries. New parks take time to develop - for plantings to bloom, for wildlife habitats to emerge, for the community to come.

Thoughtful creative design is essential to create parks that are timeless, to evolve, grow and remain special to communities through generations. 

“You build a building, it can be done in a year, and then you can walk away from it. But it takes twenty years for a tree to grow, so you have to understand how that tree might grow over time and countless other implications that come with it,” Hamish says.

“A new site is a blank canvas. Here’s an opportunity, not only to consider environmental standards to make it a really efficient, sustainable parkland, but also to bring art and creativity into it. Through design you can give it substance and meaning beyond the immediate beauty of the place.

"It’s not just about how the landscape looks, it’s also about how it functions.”

A vision for Harkness

GMCT’s future cemetery at Harkness is in one of metropolitan Melbourne’s fastest growing areas. The greenfield site is located in a suburban area that will eventually be surrounded by buildings and shops and roads.

The vision of GMCT’s planning and design team is to create a sanctuary of sustainable community parkland.

“We’re thinking about a park for the future,” Hamish says. “A sustainable landscape that is multi-faceted and multi-layered, rather than single purpose.

“The population increase is a fact. We know there’s increasing urbanisation and diminishing public open space. These are issues to consider as the context in which we should design memorial parks that can also bring facility and amenity to the neighbourhood."

While the need to commemorate loved ones will remain at the forefront, the memorial park at Harkness will be a space for reflection that emotionally nourishes through the beauty of the natural landscape, countering the idea that cemeteries are spooky, forgotten, inaccessible or precluded from everyday life.

Indeed, it is the cemetery’s role as a final resting place that Hamish finds most special about his work.

 “Any grave, you can pick one out, and if you dive into that person’s history, there are stories to be told,” he says. “The big challenge and the thing that intrigues me is the notion that we can have these bigger conversations about life and death.”