Designing a form for one's memory Immortalization: To show architecture students the value of symbolism, a professor has them design mausoleums for people they admire.

December 17, 1996|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Tour the crypts and design a mausoleum for the person you admire most.

That's the class assignment for architecture students at Anne Arundel Community College, where the notion that architects are technical nerds is being laid to rest.

"We're using symbolism in our designs to show the person's life," said Brian Grieb, a 20-year-old Pasadena resident who in the spring semester drew up a Camden Yards-style mausoleum for Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. "For me, it had to be Cal. He's a guy I've always looked up to, his work ethic and everything."

But he adds of his drawing and model, which shows Cal's burial tomb in a figure "8" surrounded by funeral pillars in the shape of baseball bats: "It's meant to honor him, but I sure hope he doesn't think that I'm trying to put him in his grave before his time."

Grieb not only got an "A" for the project but won a $200 prize from Loudon Park Cemetery in West Baltimore, whose president, Robert T. Nuckolls, is trying to promote the mausoleum-design idea so that it will catch on in colleges around the country. On Friday -- coincidentally, the 13th -- he gave four die-hard students from the latest class a rain-soaked tour of the Loudon Cemetery tombs.

"I kind of like the idea that someone's interested in what I've dedicated my life to. It's not often we get to talk to young minds," said Nuckolls, who gave a lecture to the students about famous mausoleums, such as Elvis Presley's.

"Immortalization," he told them, "is what this is all about. Keep that in mind in your designs."

He showed the students the models and drawings from the last semester, including mausoleums for former President Ronald Reagan, loved ones who died tragically, and even one for Gene Simmons of the rock group Kiss, complete with a red brick walkway leading into the building symbolizing the noted lead singer's tongue.

"You could say that some of the designs became very tongue-in-cheek," said Anne Arundel Community College Professor Richard J. Luxenburg, the man who thought up the concept for a mausoleum project.

Mausoleum design is not something typically associated with Anne Arundel's Architecture Design II course. But several months ago, Luxenburg hit upon the idea while feeding the ducks at a Pikesville cemetery with his daughter.

Luxenburg wanted his students to think about symbolism in architecture, and as he looked at the simple but symbolic buildings around him, he realized that mausoleum design would be an excellent way to teach beginning architects an important lesson.

"I looked at these little houses and I said, 'This is it,' " Luxenburg said. "These are buildings that don't function as buildings. It's strictly imagery, which I want the students to think about. Too often they just think in terms of floor plans, practicality and


Mausoleums are stately, shrine-like buildings for the dead, often elaborately detailed with stained glass windows, bronze doors, marble tombs and chiseled columns. Private mausoleums are mostly an option for the wealthy, often costing well over $100,000.

Grieb, the student who designed the Ripken mausoleum, won accolades from his professor for the tastefulness of the design. The idea of immortalizing Cal in a mausoleum, Grieb said, could be viewed as a joke -- but not by him.

"I love baseball and sports, they're a big part of my life," he said. "I really tried to do it in the realm of what baseball is and what Cal has done."

The seats around the tomb, he said, are Camden Yards stadium seats. Over the tomb would be a video monitor replaying highlights from Cal's life. The architecture of the proposed mausoleum would incorporate the style of the Camden Yards warehouse, using the same type of bricks.

"I've got to say, though, my favorite part is the baseball bat columns," Grieb said.

What Ripken might think of the idea isn't known. His agents declined to make him available to view his mausoleum.

Luxenburg's class completed the first mausoleum project earlier this year. But another professor at the college, Michael D. Ryan, has resurrected the idea this semester and put a new wrinkle on the "person-you-admire-most" motif.

His class is designing mausoleums for the architects they admire most, and the design must be in the spirit of the architect's design style. "We've got somebody doing Frank Lloyd Wright," Ryan said enthusiastically. "By using the architect's techniques, keeps it more focused on the architectural style."

The students are to present their projects on Thursday for a grade and for their shot at the $200 prize awarded by Nuckolls.

"Mausoleums are excellent for them to learn from," Ryan said. "The buildings aren't complicated, the students don't have to think about rooms and hallways, and it gets them thinking about symbolic architecture and the meaning behind a building."

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