Date: Completed 2015
Architect/Project Manager: WSRM Architects
Client: Managing Board of the Jewish Community
Description: An award-winning installation featuring a series of raised walkways and pathways, sensitively integrated in a historic Grade A Listed Cemetery, located on a challenging site, allowing safe access and a sensory nature experience to visitors, including resting points, scenic vantage points and places for meditation.
Hints of Jewish symbolism are incorporated in the architectural design by WSRM Architects. The feature walkways balustrading depicts abstracts of the branches of the Menorah (sacred candelabrum) from King Solomon’s Holy Temple, where the oil lamps burned continuously, the eternal flames symbolic of eternal souls. The circular form also features prominently in the design and is again, reminiscent of spiritual continuity.
Jews Gate Cemetery (also known as Windmill Hill Cemetery) is found in Gibraltar, on Windmill Hill, located on the SouthEast face of the upper rock area, a steep hill surrounded by dense vegetation. The Cemetery has been, and still is, regularly visited by members of the Gibraltar Jewish Community for prayers on significant Jewish calendar dates, as well as by visiting tourists. It was believed to have been in use between the 1720’s and 1860’s. Many local Jews locals can trace back to their ancestors buried in the cemetery. The location of the burial ground, precarious access stairway and original raised footpaths around the site, measuring approximately only a foot wide, made it unsafe for most to visit.
In 1989, the Gibraltar Heritage Trust designated the Jews’ Gate Cemetery on Windmill Hill as a Category A Listed Building (as noted in the Heritage Trust Act).
WSRM Architects were commissioned by the Managing Board of the Jewish Community (MBJC) in November 2012, to act as Architects, Project Managers, Lead Designers and Contract Administrators in order to design and deliver a refurbished, improved and safe access for visitors to the Jews Gate Cemetery.
WSRM’s initial designs explored ideas to resolve issues posed by the challenges related to the religious sensitivity, historical nature and Heritage value of the area, as well as the physical site constraints such as the steep gradient of the incline and the closeness of one grave to the next. The original access within the site constituted narrow and slightly raised concrete walkways weaving between graves, positioned in an attempt to prevent visitors stepping on the tombstones.
WSRM’s solution was to replace the existing paths and provide a safe raised walkway system. This would be as a sensitive intervention with minimal supports giving a sense of ‘lifting’ while still affording a visual connection to the tombs below as visitors walk over. Access into the site would also be improved with the addition of a ramp, new stairway and easily accessible paths to the lower section of the cemetery for visitors with physical impairment. Materials for the new installations were carefully specified by the Architects so as not to detract from, but enhance, the original historical features.
In order to facilitate the implementation of the design, WSRM Architects commissioned a specialist Ground Radar Survey to specific areas of the site in order to determine the exact positions of the walkway’s structural supports without disturbing any of the graves. These ‘markers’ were then used to plot out a journey connecting key areas, resting points and places for meditation. This journey through the raised walkways would also provide a ‘nature experience’, amid aged tree canopies found within and along the fringes of the site.
Following Planning Approval of the proposals, the Project received funding in the form of a Gibraltar Government Grant to aid the realization of the scheme. The refurbished Cemetery, designed by WSRM Architects, was officially reopened in March 2015.
In October 2015, the Jews Gate Cemetery received a Group Heritage Award by the Gibraltar Heritage Trust - ‘for the sensitive installation of raised walkways and improved access to this Historic site’.
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