Reimagining death for the 21st century

Compostable cocoons for corpses? Urns with OLED displays? Some of the ideas out of the Design for Death competition could dramatically change the way we bury our loved ones.

American designer Anqi Wang imagines a cocoon made from layers of clear molten glass and a unique pattern of the dead's ashes. Mourners can hang the cocoon on a tree in their yard or even in a forest cemetery, she says. Anqi Wang

What will become of us when we die? For many, it's a tough and frightening question. For some, it also presents an intriguing design challenge.

This year, 2,050 designers from 96 countries participated in Design for Death, a contest organized by the site Designboom to reimagine mourning and burial for the 21st century.

In a world where some countries hardly have room for the living, let alone the dead, it's not surprising to see new solutions usurping traditional burial practices. Among some of the more futuristic developments in death care, we've looked at liquid cremation that turns bodies into a sterile fluid ; robot arms that retrieve urns and place them in mourning rooms for prayers; and even headstones that stream messages from the grave straight to your cell phone.

The Design for Death contest adds an astounding number of new proposals to the equation -- many of them take a practical approach to saving space and resources; others look like they crept right of a sci-fi flick.

The contest -- sponsored in collaboration with the Lien Foundation and the ACM Foundation, with support from the National Funeral Directors Association -- just opened for a second round, with a submission deadline of September 1.

See some of the most compelling designs from the first round in our gallery below, and then tell us what you think. Do you find any of these ideas promising? Comforting? Disturbing?


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