Contest for best mausoleum design produces crypts and deadly puns Architecture instructor asked students to create tombs in a favorite style

December 23, 1996|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

In the contest to design the best mausoleum, the puns sink so low you could bury them 6 feet under.

"People will be dying to get into this one," exclaims instructor Michael D. Ryan, cackling while looking over one of 13 mausoleum models on display Thursday night in an Anne Arundel Community College classroom. The class assignment: design a mausoleum for the architect you admire most.

"Yeah, it's to die for," yelled one of the architecture students, prompting a moan from the crowd that was reminiscent of an agonized deathbed cry.

And when Chien An-Hung of College Park, a 32-year-old immigrant from Taiwan, was selected by a panel of three funeral directors as winner of the $300 prize for designing the best tomb, he was reminded of a simple moral: "The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

The prize money -- including $200 to runner-up Wade Gross -- was awarded by Robert "Ted" Nuckolls, president of Loudon Park Cemetery in West Baltimore, who saw the class project as a way to breathe life into the funeral business.

"I hope you've all come away with a greater understanding of the thought that goes into immortalizing a loved one," he told the students, who are in the second year of the college's architecture program.

For Ryan, the instructor, the lesson to be taught was symbolism -- the idea that designing a building means more than just drawing windows, floor plans and roof specifications.

Mausoleums, he told the class earlier in the semester, "are very symbolic buildings" that often carry a message about the person who died. Last spring, one of his fellow instructors assigned architecture students to design mausoleums for "the person you admire most," prompting them to build models for such notables as Cal Ripken Jr. (his tomb was in a figure eight) and the lead singer of the rock group Kiss.

Ryan resurrected the idea with a twist: design a mausoleum for the architect you admire most, and use that architect's style in the mausoleum.

An-Hung, for instance, drafted a mausoleum design for the internationally recognized architect Richard Meier, known for designing light-filled, staunchly Modernist buildings clad with gleaming white-enameled metal panels.

An-Hung, a computer specialist who moved to the United States two years ago to start a new career in architecture, used a three-dimensional computer-assisted-design program to design his mausoleum for Meier -- who, coincidentally, is still alive.

"It was a difficult project for me because in Taiwan, we don't have elaborate mausoleums like you have here," said An-Hung.

The idea of spending $500,000 on a shrine for a loved one is a concept that is hard to fathom, he said. "Only in America."

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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