Bushey Cemetery

Waugh Thistleton Architects, Bushey, 2016


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The site is an 8.5ha clay-soiled field, sloping south-east from the existing cemetery grounds 

Jim Stephenson     Download Original

  • The site is an 8.5ha clay-soiled field, sloping south-east from the existing cemetery grounds    
  • The  larch glulam colonnade     
  • The buildings on the site have simple forms    
  • The principles of the design of the cemetery, prayer halls, reception and mortuary are derived both from their location and from the modesty of the Jewish burial    
  • The chapel interiors give the mourning and burial ceremony a memorable narrative    
  • Colours and textures change with light conditions    
  • The walls have a handmade quality    
  • Floorplans    
  • Sections AA and BB    
  • Pond section    
  • The entrance to the site    
  • The building material echoes the return to earth of those being interred at the cemetery    
  • The cemetery under construction    
  • It took an eight-man team just 46 days to construct the 400mm-thick walls    
  • Construction of the 7m-high walls    
  • Steel goalpost structures were cast into the rammed earth walls    
  • The rammed earth walls are quick to construct    
  • The new cemetery will accommodate burials for the next 50 years    
  • Detail of prayer hall    

Waugh Thistleton has built a series of rammed earth structures at Bushey Jewish Cemetery in Hertfordshire.

The cemetery buildings form a deliberately modest composition, and the chapels’ rammed-earth structures were chosen for their simultaneously monumental and poetic qualities.

The assembled structures are arranged to serve the Jewish burial narrative. There is a simple timber reception building and porte-cochère, set at an angle to leave an ancient oak undisturbed; a few metres away, a continuous, larch glulam colonnade runs past the front of the two rammed-earth prayer halls, each with a smaller accompanying volume for Cohanim priests in the same material. 

A timber-built mortuary is at the north end and stands slightly separated from the chapels. The traditional Jewish separation of spiritual and secular territory is also evident in the gaps between the colonnade and the chapels, and between the chapels and the rooms for the Cohanim, who do not enter the chapels or come close to the coffins or graves. 

Waugh Thistleton had no previous knowledge of rammed-earth construction, and its client, United Synagogues, had to be convinced that the material was feasible. The engineer, Elliott Wood, identified an experienced stabilised rammed-earth specialist in Australia with a British-based associate, Bill Swaney.

Swaney built a demonstrably durable sample wall section using 500mm-thick rammed-earth blocks composed of sand, limestone, gravel, 5 per cent cement, and clay spoil from the swales-cum-ponds created at the two lowest and wettest edges of the site.

The physicality of the rammed-earth façades, which sit on a stepped concrete upstand, is engrossing. The faces of the individual blocks have subtly uneven surfaces and colourations, marked with filled-in formwork tie-holes and wavering chamfered vertical joints.

The halls, entered from the west through large Cor-ten doors, are lined with a timber-slatted cowl which stops about two-thirds of the way into the space and gives way to rammed-earth walls lit from full-width west-facing glazing in the stepped ceiling.

The trapezoidal plan of the green-roofed chapels produces two right-angled corners and one façade that is slightly angled in plan, and these façades face each other across the open-air prayer space. Atmospherically and spatially, the chapel interiors and the outdoor gathering place give the mourning and burial ceremony a memorable narrative.


  • Begun: Aug 2015
  • Completed: Jul 2016
  • Floor area: 494m2
  • Sector: Religious
  • Total cost: £6.1M
  • Procurement: JCT standard building contract with quantities
  • Address: Little Bushey Lane, Bushey, WD23 3TP, United Kingdom

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