About this project
The Urban Death Project is raising funds to support the ongoing design and implementation of a new option for laying our loved ones to rest. It’s a way for our deaths to be more like our lives – full of meaning and a deep respect for the earth. It’s also a way that we can continue living on in our communities, even after we’ve died. Check it out, be inspired, and join our work!
It looks like you made your goal! What is next?
We made our goal of $75,000 and then we reached 1000 backers, and now the numbers just keep rising - we are so grateful to everyone who has become involved thus far!
The wild success of the campaign and the encouragement of our backers has inspired us to set one final bold and beautiful goal - $100,000! The additional money we raise will be used to fund a series of research trips, which are vital to continuing our cutting edge work.
You can read more about what we will use the additional funds for down below...and please read on for more information about the project...and become a backer today!
What is the Urban Death Project?
The Urban Death Project is a new system that utilizes the natural process of decomposition to safely and gently turn our deceased into soil. The project is creating a meaningful, equitable, and ecological alternative to existing options for the care of the dead.
By funding this Kickstarter Campaign, you will join people around the world who believe that:
- Death is a remarkable human event
- Our bodies are full of life-giving potential
- There is deep meaning in giving back to the earth after we have died
- Every person has the right to sustainable, meaningful death care
Click "Back this Project"now to join us!
Why do we need a new option for our bodies when we die?
Every day that we are living, we take in nutrients from the world around us. When we die, our physical bodies are full of potential, and we can give those nutrients back to the earth.
The problem is that our current funeral model is toxic and polluting. In the US alone, two and a half million people die each year, and 50% choose conventional burial. This means that most often, their bodies are embalmed and then buried in a casket in a concrete-lined grave in a cemetery.
Because of this, each year, we bury enough metal to build the Golden Gate Bridge, enough wood to build 1800 single-family homes, and enough carcinogenic embalming fluid to fill eight Olympic sized swimming pools.
Cremation, the other most popular choice, burns fossil fuels and emits about 600 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually – that’s the equivalent of more than 70,000 cars driving the road for a year.
In other words, the very last thing that most of us will do on this earth is poison it.
We can do so much better! Over the past three years, the Urban Death Project team has taken an inspired design idea and developed it into a system that uses the natural process of decomposition to turn our physical bodies into soil. This soil can then be used to grow new life – imagine if you could become a pine tree, a honeysuckle bush, or a field of lavender after you’ve died.
How does the system work?
At the heart of each Urban Death Project facility is a three-story core containing our unique compost-based renewal system. Although this core is being engineered to be replicated entirely, each building that houses a core can, and should be unique, designed specifically for the neighborhood in which it resides.
Bodies of the deceased are placed inside this core by their friends and families during a ceremony. Over the span of a few months, with the help of aerobic decomposition and microbial activity, bodies decompose fully, creating a rich soil that can be used to grow new life.
Beyond being a system for turning our bodies into soil, the Urban Death Project is a way to create spaces in our cities where we can contemplate our place in the natural world, and say goodbye to those we love. Death is special and is as miraculous - in its own way - as birth. Thus, it deserves to be marked by ceremony and meaning.
The funding from this Kickstarter Campaign will be used to complete the second phase of design for this pioneering new system. Our work to date has been funded by the Echoing Green Foundation, and by donations from people like you. Thank you for supporting our project!
What is the science behind the Urban Death Project?
Our bodies are made up of nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium, and when coupled with high carbon material such as woodchips and sawdust, we turn into soil in a process called composting. What happens to a body in an Urban Death Project facility is a lot like what happens on the top six inches of the forest floor, as organic material breaks down to form precious topsoil.
The First Law of Thermodynamics states that neither energy nor matter can be created nor destroyed. When we die, the decomposition process breaks down the molecules in our bodies into smaller molecules and atoms, which are then incorporated into new molecules. In other words, our physical bodies are literally transformed into new substances. The system of the Urban Death Project activates this process and accelerates it with the help of carbon materials, aeration, and hydration.
Has human composting been done before?
The scientific basis for the Urban Death Project is the research done in livestock mortality composting by Cornell University, Washington State University, and the Pennsylvania Natural Resources Conservation Service (among others). Researchers at these institutions have found that composting is a safe, sustainable, and effective way to re-purpose animal carcasses, and the process is now utilized by farmers all over the United States. There are no records of humans being composted in this way, though the practice of natural burial (without embalming, caskets or vaults) is growing in popularity in countries all over the world.
When she was in graduate school for architecture, founder Katrina Spade realized the enormous potential of the livestock composting process, and she set out to modify it for the urban setting and the human experience.
The Urban Death Project was born.
Is it safe to compost bodies?
Yes. Because composting creates heat, the process kills most common viruses and dangerous bacteria. The extensive research into livestock mortality composting has found that the temperature inside a functioning compost system reaches 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit, and that these high temperatures kill dangerous pathogens.
Today, farmers use mortality composting to safely dispose of their dead livestock, as well as to control odor and runoff. The Urban Death Project is in the process of fine tuning this process to be appropriate and meaningful for humans in an urban setting.
We are currently working with our soil scientist advisors to better understand how heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and prion diseases can be safely addressed within our system.
What about the bones?
Believe it or not, bones that are not allowed to desiccate and are kept within an active compost process do decompose entirely, although they take longer than flesh to do so. We are currently working with our partners in human decomposition research to determine the exact amount of time it will take for a human skeleton to turn into soil.
Non-organic materials such as prostheses, metal plates, or amalgam fillings will be screened out and recycled.
What does deathcare have to do with social justice?
Today, the cost of conventional burials and cremations is steadily rising, and there are many who struggle to pay for the funeral services of a loved one. We believe that beautiful, sustainable deathcare should be available to all people around the globe, regardless of their ability to pay. We at the Urban Death Project envision a world where we don’t feel any pressure to buy needless consumables in order to honor our loved ones and celebrate their lives.
A movement towards better death care is happening all over the world. Organizations like the National Home Funeral Alliance, Green Burial Council, Death with Dignity, Funeral Consumers Alliance and Hospice are all part of a movement to ensure we can own our own deaths, and make them more meaningful and environmentally sustainable.
The Urban Death Project is a non-profit organization that is working to change the way we experience the care of our deceased and create an option which is available to all people, regardless of their economic status.
We aren’t just creating a new system that turns bodies into soil – we are striving for an entirely new paradigm of death care. We are creating a new model where people are treated equally as they are folded back into the earth’s embrace. It is an exciting time to be alive!
How does religion fit into all of this?
The Urban Death Project fills a niche, providing an alternative method for the care of our dead that is designed for the density of the city and envisioned on a neighborhood scale. The architecture of each Urban Death Project facility is meant to be inclusive of all faiths and provide the space to gather, pray, and mourn.
It is important to note that an Urban Death Project facility is not simply a system for turning our bodies into soil. It is also a space for the contemplation of our place in the natural world, and a ritual to help us say goodbye to our loved ones by connecting us with the cycles of nature.
Quite simply, for many, this option will be deeply spiritual – an ecological, productive, and beautiful thing to do with our physical bodies after we have died.
What have you done so far?
The Urban Death Project began as a conceptual solution to a big problem when founder and director Katrina Spade was earning her Masters degree in Architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Katrina spent two years designing a system and a prototype facility that would turn bodies into soil and support the living as they grieved.
After graduating, Katrina continued to spend nights and weekends working on the project so that she could bring it to the next stage of development and find funding to continue her work.
In July of 2014, Katrina was awarded a Climate Change Fellowship from Echoing Green, a foundation that provides seed-stage funding and supports emerging leaders who are trying to bring about large-scale social change. Since then, the Urban Death Project has grown into a thriving organization with an audacious mission to change the very landscape of death care.
In the past year, the project has made partnerships with people and organizations who will help us realize this mission. From funeral directors to human decomposition researchers to engineers, these experts have brought their skills and determination to the table and are contributing their design time, legal expertise, research, and industry knowledge to the project.
In the past year, we’ve also completed a wildly successful outreach campaign, spreading the word about the potential of this exciting new system via social media, our extensive network, and also via the press. As a result, we’ve heard from people all over the world – from South Africa to the Netherlands to the United Kingdom to China.
We are so excited about this Kickstarter Campaign! Besides helping raise the funds we need to do this work, every single new urban Death Project backer helps us illustrate the enormous collective desire for this new option in death care.
Please click "Back this Project" to join us now!
What do we need to do next?
With the funding from this campaign, we will complete the second phase of design development for our unique core system, including detailing of the aeration and hydration systems, the material screening and finishing systems, and the structural design of the core. We will create a new 3-D model of the core system and prepare a set of engineering drawings, all this adding to the tremendous momentum that has been building over the past few years.
Our goal is to build the first Urban Death Project facility in the city of Seattle, WA and then move on to help these facilities get built all over the world. If we surpass our goal of $75,000, we will begin designing the toolkit that will help individuals, municipalities, and organizations plan Urban Death Project facilities in their neighborhoods and we will begin to work with their communities to build them.
With your help, we will create a new alternative that is deeply meaningful, ecologically beneficial, and worthy of the incredible human event that we all share.
"Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich" - Sarah Bernhardt
Who made the awesome Kickstarter video?
The Kickstarter Video was made by the following people:
- Ellen Callaghan - Editor
- Margaret Longley - Cinematographer
- Chris Looney - Animation
- Heather Posten - Director
What rewards is the project offering during this campaign?
Glad you asked! We are thrilled about our reward offerings, ranging from amazing artwork to experiential rewards to VIP party tickets and even to a future spot in an Urban Death Project core.
When you hit the green “Back this Project” button, you will get to choose your reward. Here are some images to help you decide:
Each one of our rewards was created especially for the Urban Death project by people who believe in creating this new paradigm of death care:
- Iris Gottlieb created the "Eventually" series, the limited edition "Soil" print, and the artwork for all of the t-shirts.
- Chris Looney created the handmade scene flipbooks from his awesome animations.
- Katrina Spade designed the postcard-style prints.
We're also excited to offer a bunch of "experiential rewards", which include a visit to your hometown by our very own death theorist and mortician Caitlin Doughty as well as Urban Death Project founder Katrina Spade. You can check out all of the rewards at the list to your right.
Please click "Back this Project" now! Thank you for your support!
What will the additional money help you do?
Recently we entered into an exciting partnership with Western Carolina University’s Forensic Osteology Research Station (FOReSt). Together, we’ve begun trials to determine the timeframe and best practices for turning a body into nutrient rich soil. This work has never been done before, and it’s crucial to the development of the Urban Death Project.
The funds raised by our new goal of $100,000 will directly help us advance this research. During my last trip to FOReSt, we set up two initial experiments in human composting. It was an incredible experience, and I am deeply grateful to the people who donated their bodies to help us create a new option in death care.
With the funding from this new goal, we can take our research to the next level, and we are excited to share it with you! Additional money raised will pay for the cost of my travel to the hills of North Carolina, for the materials we will use to compost the donated bodies, and for field supplies such as temperature probes and moisture meters. When the trip is over, I will send a video ‘Report Back’ to all backers of the campaign, so that you will be able to see the results that your pledges helped create.
We are really glad to be able to share this adventure with you. Together, we are creating a new paradigm of death care.
Click Back this Project now. And THANK YOU!
Risks and challenges
If we meet our Kickstarter goal of $75,000, we will complete the second phase of design and engineering for the Urban Death Project composting system. The main challenge for us in completing this goal is having enough time to do so. Therefore, the biggest risk to our backers is that the project takes longer than we expect.
Katrina Spade, founder and director of the Urban Death Project, will be the lead project manager on the second phase of the design. Her work experience as a designer and project manager means that she understands a project timeline very well, and has a real sense of what it takes to get the work done within the specified time frame. In addition, Katrina will continue to rely on the incredible community of people who have dedicated their time to help the project move forward from day to day, week to week, and month to month.
In terms of reward fulfillment, we were careful to give ourselves plenty of time to get those stickers, art prints, and t-shirts out to all of our amazing backers. Caitlin Doughty and Katrina Spade will work directly with all of our $7500 level backers to determine the best timing for their special “Future of Death Care” visits. The afternoon tea events and launch party will be scheduled as soon as the Kickstarter campaign ends.
Perhaps the most interesting set of “risks and challenges” comes with the $2500 “Future Core” reward. To that end, our lawyers have kindly written up the following Terms and Conditions Agreement (see below). We are so excited to be offering our backers the chance to sign up now to be composted after they die. But before you sign up to back us at this level, please be sure to read the following Terms and Conditions for the $2500 "Future Place in the Core" reward:
TERMS AND CONDITIONS for FUTURE PLACE IN THE CORE REWARD
Terms and Conditions
- PLEASE NOTE: The Urban Death Project does not currently maintain an active facility. This project is currently in the process of fundraising and is working hard to design and develop the prototype for its facilities. While Urban Death hopes to move forward with its operations and eventually open Urban Death facilities throughout the U.S., it cannot guarantee that a facility will be operational at the time of a backer’s death and/or that an Urban Death facility will be open and operational in the state where backer has died.
- If there is not an operational facility in your state when you die, your spot in an Urban Death facility may be donated to a person in need in any state with an operational facility.
- Offer includes use of Urban Death Project ceremony space and support spaces (shrouding room, restrooms, kitchenette) for three hours on day of funeral service.
- Offer includes support by staff during shrouding and ceremony.
- Offer includes storage of body for up to ten days in refrigerated space prior to day of ceremony.
- Offer may be redeemed only if there is an operational Urban Death Project in the state where participant dies, upon the time of death. Due to regulations on interstate transportation of human remains, there must be a functioning facility in the state where backer has passed away for this offer to be redeemed. Urban Death cannot guarantee that an Urban Death facility will be operational and available in backer’s state at the time of death.
- Redemption is currently limited to U.S. residents.
- The cost of transporting the body of the deceased to an Urban Death Project facility in their state is not included. Backer and/or Backer’s estate are responsible for complying with any applicable regulations relating to such transportation and any costs associated therewith.
- Backer is entitled to one spot per donation. This spot is non-transferable and is not subject to a refund in the event that Backer elects to use different funeral or burial arrangements.
- We hope to have an operational Urban Death Project facility in the year 2020. However, this is only an estimate, and is not a guarantee. Because of the nature of this project and the significant funding, design, and regulatory issues involved, Urban Death Project cannot promise that its facilities will be available, operational, and/or located in your state at the time of your death.
- Each party is responsible for complying with all applicable legal requirements governing the duties, obligations, and business practices of that party and shall obtain any permits or licenses necessary for its duties. Neither party shall take any action in violation of any applicable legal requirement that could result in liability being imposed on the other party.
- Urban Death Project shall not be liable for any cancellation or delay in the redemption of this award resulting from causes beyond its reasonable control, including but not limited to acts of God, equipment failure, inability to secure funding, delays in transportation, war, acts of terrorism, floods, fires, unusually severe weather conditions or any similar circumstance beyond the control of the parties.
- By pledging at this level, you acknowledge the foregoing and that the award is contingent upon the above terms.
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