Design, reinforced by research, reveals an urgent call to liberate city life from the burden of outmoded practices. A community’s need for sanitary and sensible disposal of corpses is intertwined with the need of survivors to organize suitable rituals and memorialize the deceased.

DeathLab’s body of research includes critical theoretical spatial propositions, data projections, scientific inquiry, and aims to develop ways to reduce the adverse impacts of our living years on the environment.



Promession is based on the principle that all organic matter should be recycled. This process is most commonly envisioned as reducing a corpse to fertilizer to feed a living memorial tree or shrub, which may be planted privately or as part of a civic structure or memorial park. The process engages cryomation, wherein a body is put in a bath of liquid nitrogen and subsequently vacuum dried, making it brittle and easily reduced to fine particles. Other than the removal of water, human remains maintain their complete chemical composition—suitable for biodegradation and absorption in the ecosystem. The process requires 130kWh of electricity, or about one third the energy consumed by cremation. (1)


Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, a Swedish marine biologist and environmental consultant founded Promessa Organic Burial, which has developed, and intends to offer an environmentally responsible method of freeze-drying human corpses, condensing an adult corpse to twenty to thirty kilograms (44-66 pounds) of fine, hygienic, odorless organic powder which serves as compost. The method was initially tested on pig and cow carcasses in Scandinavia and Europe, where the animal remains, when placed in a biodegradable container and buried in oxygenated soil, disintegrate within six months. (2) The Church of Sweden has yet to fully embrace the practice, and after initial recognition of ecological burial, government officials and the Church Council have not moved forward with plans to build the first Promatorium in Sweden. (3) Promessa is a nascent global business, with affiliates licensed to operate in the UK and South Korea, with legislation pending in Germany, Switzerland, and South Africa. It is represented on Facebook, (4) seeking a partner to enter into the US market. As of January 2013, the company was in the process of choosing a licensee in California as the first American location for the process. The word, “Promessa,” is Italian for promise, as the technology, producing no water or air pollution, promises to deliver the body seamlessly back to nature.


1.) FREEZING: The deceased is pre-frozen to zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18˚C). This process takes between 24 and 48 hours.

2.) METAMORPHOSIS: The frozen body is then placed in a sealed Promator where the metamorphosis occurs. Immersed in about 22 gallons (83 liters) of liquid nitrogen (calibrated to body-size), the corpse is further frozen to negative 321 degrees Fahrenheit (-196˚C) and becomes crystallized. After two hours the liquid nitrogen evaporates into the atmosphere as harmless nitrogen gas, which naturally comprises 78% of Earth’s atmosphere.

3.) VIBRATION: Sixty seconds of ultrasonic vibration reduces the remains to powder. The promessed remains are then passed through a vacuum chamber where frozen water sublimates and is released as steam. A dry, odorless powder, about thirty percent of the original body weight, is left. Metals or any other foreign substances are easily selectively separated

4.) COMPOSTING: Aerobic composting can further reduce the mass by an additional third. The organic “promains” may be placed in a container made from biodegradable corn or potato starch to be buried in shallow topsoil, or scattered for biodegradation and re-absorption into the ecosystem. The small particle size enables oxygen and microorganisms in the topsoil to accelerate organic decomposition, which for an adult corpse will be complete in six to eighteen months.


1 - Elisabeth Keijzer, “Environmental impact of funerals: Life cycle assessments of activities after life." Master’s Thesis: EES 2011-112 M. University of Groningen, CIO, Center for Isotope Research and IVEM, Center for Energy and Environmental Studies
2 - Lone Frank, "Composting Dead Bodies." Science Now, 13 June 2001 © American Association for the Advancement of Science. []
3 - Lisa Zyga, “Ecological burial involves freeze-drying, composting the corpse.” 08.March 2011. []
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Graphic Contributors: Allison Conley, Jennifer Preston