When a loved one dies, one coffin and a single slab of granite is easily justified. But a sea of coffins and tombstones overwhelming an otherwise verdant landscape starts to lose its meaning. Raoul Bretzel and Anna Citelli’s Capsula Mundi offers a more sustainable vision, replacing tombstones with trees and egg-shaped containers that serve as urns.
Capsula Mundi’s biodegradable design was first unveiled in 2003, garnering minor internet fame with its promise of replacing graveyards with forests.“[It’s] kind of a no-brainer,” Antonelli said. “It’s funny to say, but once you start thinking in this more holistic way, it makes sense, and it’s quite poetic and beautiful.”
This early online popularity at first troubled the design duo. Their online fans seemed to be too young to be worrying about their burial. While, at first, they attributed its popularity among the youth to the environmental focus of the project, they soon realized the project’s main pull was its defiance of the last taboo: death. “The theme of death,” Bretzel wrote via email, “with its related objects and social connection, suddenly came up as a theme untouched by a design reflection.”
The amount of wood required to make coffins is destructive to forests, and the toxic chemicals from the embalming process leach into the dirt. “The thought of laying an egg underground and planting a tree above it is reconciling,” Bretzel said. “It reconstitutes the passage that a marble tomb interrupts.”
Citelli and Bretzel set out to design objects that would make our burial and mourning process not only more sustainable, but less painful, as well. Instead of burying our loved ones in thick wooden coffins inside oppressive cement burial plots, Capsula Mundi incorporates more hopeful imagery, such as “the egg as a symbol of birth,” Bretzel explained, and “the tree as a symbol of union between the sky and earth.”