Project: Olivet Funeral & Cremation Services Building
Architects: John Lum Architecture
Location: Colma, California, USA
Photographs by: Paul Dyer
Design Plays with Shadow and Light to Create Meaning
Established in 1896 as the “Cemetery of all Faiths”, Olivet Memorial Park, now known as Cypress Lawn, is one of the oldest cemeteries in Colma, California. Sited at the base of the San Bruno Mountains among a historic landscape of mature cypress and palm trees, Olivet expanded its operations in 2019 with the opening of Olivet Funeral & Cremation Services. While funeral homes tend to be bleak and windowless, Olivet requested that their building capture a newer thought in funeral rituals; a celebration of life. Headquartered on the East Coast, Olivet’s management team specifically wanted a space to better serve their multi-cultural community and be truly California in feel. They enlisted San Francisco-based John Lum Architecture to design a light and airy space that is non-denominational and areligious in its symbology.
“Sacred spaces are a vital part of our communities intended to serve us during times of need,” said Bret Walters, a Principal at John Lum Architecture. “To create a peaceful, functional space that would accommodate cross-cultural beliefs and rituals surrounding loss, we took a human-centered approach rooted in inclusivity, togetherness, and connectivity. A private, serene garden serves as backdrop.”
The mid-century modern building features a low, horizontal profile stretched across a gently-sloped lawn. Referencing classical structures, the exterior features an inviting terrace with concrete pillars and shou-shugi-ban wood-slatted screens that play with shadow and light. Concrete benches encourage guests to linger, recognizing that celebrations require informal areas for families to gather. The copper sheathing cornice, which has started to patina, like life weathers with time. Materials were chosen for longevity. The concept was to design a building with high quality materials that have a natural aging process, serving as a reminder of spiritual transformations.
Inside, natural woods create a cozy, residential atmosphere. The lobby features a welcoming skylight, stone-gray terrazzo flooring, and an uplifting color palette. The building’s centerpiece is the 2,100-sf multi-purpose celebration space which can hold up to 300 guests. Its interiors are awash in tranquil hues. Walls, hand-painted with a cloud-like ombre effect, speak to the ethereal, while clay-colored carpet absorbs unwanted sounds. A soft glow emerges from the geometric ceiling cut-out where memories can be shared via drop-down screens.
Bathed in natural light, a wall of windows overlooks the zen-like garden, acting as a threshold to nature and contemplation. Automated roller blinds, with filtering and blackout capacity, provide flexibility for various types of services.
“The decision to have daylight a focal point of the celebration space was a radical move as traditional layouts typically favor minimal lighting in an enclosed space,” said John Lum, Founding Principal at John Lum Architecture. “By bringing in an element of nature, the space is better able to service Eastern and Western religious and Pagan practices. For example, access to the exterior courtyard allows for outdoor ceremonies, whereas the interior air evacuation system allows for incense burning common during Buddhist celebrations,” added Lum.
Additionally, the building has two family-friendly arrangement suites, two smaller visitation areas, restrooms, a hospitality room with coffee bar, staff offices, embalming facilities, and a secondary service corridor, as well as a hearse entrance.
The simple design reflects the diversity of the Bay Area by accommodating all types of cultures and religious practices, affording families a contemplative place for celebrating their loved ones. Cypress Lawn recently acquired Olivet and continues to offer traditional funerals, burials, cremations, memorial and chapel services, lawn crypts, a columbarium, and mausoleums.
-Project description and images provided by John Lum Architecture