Internationally renowned architects are putting their God-given talents to work creating graveyards, indoor cemeteries and other religious facilities, to make them even more sacred.

The architects include such notables as Toyoo Ito, Tadao Ando and Kengo Kuma.

The move underscores the high expectations for building designers’ exceptional ability to bring the concept of sanctity into form, at a time with the rapidly aging Japanese population and urban areas becoming increasingly densely populated.

Ito, 77, designed Kawaguchishi Megurinomori, a Kawaguchi city-run crematory in the municipality’s Araijuku district in Saitama Prefecture, which opened in April. The ceiling of the facility’s waiting hall facing a pond features a curved limestone cave-like design.

Ito said the unique facility was developed in the image of a “space where corpses slowly return to the soil.”

“I would like visitors to calmly recognize mortals’ life and death,” he said.

According to Tsutomu Funamoto, vice chief of Kawaguchi’s city planning department, the development of a crematory is a long-standing problem for the municipality.

Paying consideration to residents, the city weighed developing a crematory whose appearance is significantly “different from that of ordinary ones.”

Ito was selected as he had previously designed a funeral facility in Gifu Prefecture.

Although only 13 to 15 groups currently use Kawaguchishi Megurinomori daily on average, the crematory is looking to raise the number to 35 in 10 years, when the population becomes increasingly elderly and the number of funerals peaks.

Meanwhile, Ando, 77, designed a canopy for a 13.5-meter-tall Buddhist statue made of stone at Makomanai Takino Cemetery in Sapporo’s Minami Ward.

Completed in 2016, the dome-shaped canopy has a huge hole at its top, allowing visitors to view the head of the statue. Because of that, the statue is called Atama Daibutsu (Buddha's Head).

“Hiding part of the statue helps increase sacredness, making visitors feel relaxed,” Ando said.

The Shinjuku Rurikoin Byakurengedo hall, which has a temple and indoor cemetery within, is a three-minute walk from the southern exit of JR Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.

It was designed by architect Sey Takeyama, 63, an architecture professor at Kyoto University.

Surrounded by many buildings, the hall, built in 2014, is shaped like a sacred lotus flower, which is said to bloom in the Buddhist paradise. While its exterior is made of exposed concrete, the cemetery inside is available for any religions and sects.

When the bereaved families enter the prayer room, their loved ones’ remains are automatically transported there from the ossuary.

The facility was constructed especially for “those living in the urban region.”

“I designed the structure in the way it appears as if the building was up in the air, so the facility can be separated from a bustling Shinjuku,” Takeyama said. “I want to create places that will be loved throughout the ages, so making a space for prayer was worthwhile work for me.”

Kuma, 64, an architecture professor at the University of Tokyo who designed the new National Stadium, created Sennichidanijoen in front of JR Shinanomachi Station in the capital.

The facility, finished in 2017, houses an indoor cemetery as well. Wood is used for the walls and aluminum tiles for the roof to create a cheerful and friendly atmosphere.

“The facility provides visitors a special time,” Kuma said. “I am really glad I was allowed to design the facility.”

A famed non-Japanese architect has also joined the trend.

David Chipperfield, 64, a British architect, designed a prayer hall and resting facility at the Inagawa Cemetery in Inagawa, Hyogo Prefecture, which were completed in 2017.

Hideyuki Osawa, chairman of a group that commissioned their design, explained why cemetery operators ask noted architects to design their facilities.

“All people from any religion or race want to feel a sense of peace at places of prayer,” he said. “To create such places, the power of architects who have an excellent design ability and can hold thorough discussions with their clients is necessary.”