Changing the Perception of Crematorium Buildings With Vandersanden

  • 11 May 2023

A new crematorium facility for Huntingdon Town Council, Huntingdon Crematorium, is a collection of buildings equipped with ceremonial spaces and the appropriate crematory functions. The specification of Vandersanden’s Perla and Morvan bricks has resulted in buildings that have made a stunning contribution to the landscape of the greenfield site while also helping to change the accepted perception of crematorium buildings.

Mark Doohan, Managing Director at Benchmark Architects, comments: “We were looking for a way of making the process of going to an end of life ceremony uplifting and hopeful.

“We had the idea of creating a curved, white, brick building within which there are beautiful, light-filled and airy spaces.”

When envisioning the scheme, the team at Benchmark Architects realised that by inserting a black brick wall across the site they could create a ‘canvas’ that provided the separation between the front of the house and the working areas of the crematorium.

Against this, on one side, they packed three curved white brick volumes to create the key spaces, adjusted in height according to the hierarchy of their importance: the entrance lobby, waiting room and chapel. Out of sight, behind the wall, are the cremators, plant rooms, offices and other functional elements.

The design focuses on a central drum flooded with natural light. The main building contains a ceremonial hall for 125 people, waiting rooms and a crematory with a capacity for two cremators. A second building contains a multi-purpose function room – that can be used for wakes – and a café with associated catering facilities and administrative offices.

Crucial choice

Having created the design vision, the choice of appropriate bricks was crucial. Good white bricks are hard to come by, often theyre tinged with yellow or beige; finding black bricks that are not simply colour coated or are a dark blue is equally hard, says Doohan.


“We were delighted when we were able to find the Vandersanden bricks,” Mark adds.

“We genuinely love the texture and through colour quality of Vandersanden’s white Perla and black Morvan bricks. They set off our concept perfectly, with the white brick capturing the light in the way that we envisioned when first sketching out the idea.”

A double soldier course heads the windows to form a band around the building and is repeated close to the top of the main drum. There is also a recessed course 500 mm off the ground that creates a scored line at the base, bringing additional balance to the building.

This is achieved by setting one course back by some 25 mm. Another advantage of the Vandersanden bricks is that they can be used in the ground below the DPC level, visually rooting the building to the landscape.

It was essential that the volumes were homogenous in feel, so a good mortar match was vital. Lime mortar was selected and was aesthetically important due to its colour, texture and because its flexibility reduced the number of movement joints required. The lime used, NHL 3.5, was naturally white; for the black brickwork, it was pigmented.

When seen from a distance, only the overall form of the building is perceived but, on getting closer, the brick details start to stand out. Then, when really close, the contribution that the texture, pattern, shape and almost handmade quality of the individual bricks makes to the quality of the building becomes clear.

‘Go-to source’

Mark continues: “We’re always keen to specify products where we get really good technical support. Vandersanden were excellent at providing advice and technical backup whenever we had a question. Since becoming aware of Vandersanden products, they are our go-to source for brick.

“As architects, we’re image-based creatures so the website is incredibly helpful. It’s an excellent way of being able to see the bricks in loads of different and inspiring building types. Many brick suppliers don’t show that connection. Most importantly, our client for Huntingdon Crematorium is delighted with the brickwork.”

To find out more about this project, and for more information on Perla, Morvan and the wide range of high-quality bricks available from Vandersanden, visit the website. Details on Benchmark Architects can be found here.

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