Urban Death Project

Katrina Spade

Katrina Spade

Katrina Spade, a young Seattle architect, has proposed a new form of natural burial, composting. She was inspired by the use of ‘nurse’ logs in the forest which provide habitat for edible fungi. She now has a grant to study the process. Almost a third of all Washington State dairy cattle are composted and the Commonwealth of Virginia has built four experimental stations for composting roadkill as an alternative to landfill.  The science is fairly straightforward; a nitrogen rich organism (us) is placed in a bin of carbon rich fill such as woodchips or sawdust adding moisture and other elements, if needed.

“Composting makes people think of banana peels and coffee grounds,” Ms. Spade said. But “our bodies have nutrients. What if we could grow new life after we’ve died?”

Microbial activity will start the pile cooking. Bacteria release enzymes that break down tissue into component parts like amino acids, and eventually, the nitrogen-rich molecules bind with the carbon-rich ones, creating a soil-like substance.

Temperatures reach around 140 degrees, often higher, and the heat kills common pathogens. Done correctly, there should be no smell. Bones also compost, though they take longer than tissue, which is reduced to soil in a few months

The yield is enough compost to fill a 3 foot cube for planting a tree, or rosebush. There are many issues to be resolved; perhaps not least the ‘yuck’ factor, but Spade is building a memorial facility now in Seattle; you can follow her progress and her kickstarter campaign on the website: http://www.urbandeathproject.org/

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