Funeral Group’s Design Competition Breathes New Life Into Death Care

The National Funeral Directors Association's recent death care competition, featured at its recent annual meeting, hopes to rethink life after death with an array of unusual takes on burial.

The National Funeral Directors Association’s death care competition, featured at its recent annual meeting, aims to help people rethink life after death with an array of unusual takes on burial.

Scrap being buried in a box and shoveled underground. That’s boring. More than 700 “death care” designers have another idea.

The Design for Death competition, supported by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) and sponsored by the Lien Foundation and ACM Foundation, pooled the greatest (and darkest) minds to rethink the future of death care.

The purpose of the competition was “to look at new products and services for funeral service around the world,” NFDA CEO Christine Pepper recently explained in an NPR interview. “And so, we thought, what better place to come together and have people outside of the profession take a look at different ideas.”

Among the more successful entries:

The third-prize winner in the Eco-Green Death Care category packs cremated remains into a balloon meant to bump against the clouds and produce rain.

A jumpsuit made of edible mushrooms aims to reduce the toxic chemicals that seep from the deceased body, allowing for natural decomposition.

The two were among more than 1,300 submissions, with the winning entries displayed at the NFDA’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas, earlier this month. Other winners are highlighted in the video below:

The competition isn’t the first to address an increasingly pressing issue: a decrease in the amount of land available for burial space. The industry is looking—and, in the case of the competition, inviting others—to contribute their vision for more green, ecologically sound, and practical options for burial or memorial, NFDA spokesman James Olson told Reuters.

Among the solutions already on the market: Death care tech companies such as FuneralOne offer digital services that range from memorial websites and tribute videos to webcasting funeral services. LifeGem extracts carbon from a corpse to create a synthetic, memorial diamond.

But there’s definitely room for more ideas—especially from outside the industry.

“The many entries we received from designers around the world show that innovation in death care doesn’t have to come from funeral directors,” Pepper said in a statement. “The ideas and innovations presented by the designers who participated in this contest bring fresh perspectives to our profession and challenge funeral directors to think about the services and products they offer to families in new ways.”

Jae Rhim Lee's Mushroom Death Suit, which won an award in the competition, is designed to help with decomposition. (press photo)

Emma Beck

By Emma Beck

Emma Beck is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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