LOLA and IWA win transformation design of Bilbao Begoña cemetery

2 August 2023

Begoña cemetery is transitioning into a generous urban garden, while putting into value its accumulated heritage and history. The transformation competition was launched after the exhumation of 4,700 people’s remains, including the largest mass grave found in the Basque country with the victims from both Civil and Carlist wars. To honour the cemetery’s history in a time of green transition for the city, the Municipality of Bilbao selected LOLA Landscape Architects and IWA Design Studio to design the transformation of the 0.6 ha Begoña cemetery in Bilbao.

The hidden gem of Bilbao will open its doors to the public after 20 years of closure. Its intimate character and natural atmosphere will be maintained, while keeping the landmark’s important history alive. Throughout the transformation, history and heritage form the guiding principles, giving means for the history memory of victims from both Civil and Carlist wars, and past epidemics. The Begoña Garden curates many individual stories while supporting urban life, a community that evolves over generations, learning from past mistakes and achievements while contributing to a better future.

The cemetery’s tombstones and pantheons, integral to its heritage, will be preserved through relocation, reuse, or rehabilitation. Most elements are adjusted so visitors can experience the tension between opposing dynamics: more silence and openness versus intensity and density.

The design introduces a central garden and a botanical gallery, largely covered by trees which is excellent for noise reduction. The central garden includes most heritage items: where all pantheons are placed, blending into an ecological meadow. The civic loop will host a program for the neighborhood and city, dividing the two spaces through a trellis sculpture arrangement adorned with climbing plants.

The main entrance area will be transformed into a memorial dedicated to the victims found in the mass graves, and the paving’s configuration will echo fragments of the victims’ DNA patterns. The cemetery’s unblemished object will be integrated into the new park, while the fragment pieces with less value become part of the surrounding botanical gallery gravel.

The project has a budget of 3 million euros, and its execution is expected in 2025. The Begoña Garden is a promising stand as a testament to the resilience of memory and the celebration of history, offering a space for reflection, learning, and hope for a brighter future.

Client: Municipality of Bilbao
I.c.w.: IWA Studio
Project Team: Leire Calvillo, Peter Veenstra, Ramon Cuesta, Juan Escudero

Central garden, framed by trellis sculptures.

By raising its surrounding ground, the Chapel will become one of the entrances to the central garden.

Right where the mass graves were found, a memorial space is honouring the victims.

Cemetery during the exhumation process. Photography: Oskar M Bernal.

Decomposition of the functional space, cultural objects and ecology.

Plan showing accessibility.

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