Sam Lasky’s recent project at Bigelow Chapel in Cambridge was a matter of life and death. After all, the architect at William Rawn Associates was building out the small granite chapel at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

SEEING THE LIGHT: Thanks to 2-inch thick, low-iron glass, much of the annex is transparent, inside and out. Photo: Holly Rike OLD AND NEW: The ornate Gothic Revival designs of the chapel are in stark contrast to the boxy addition. Photo: Holly Rike ROSY: In addition to making the chancel accessible for wheelchairs, the great rose window (not in view) was restored to wash the 80-seat hall with pink and red light on sunny days. Photo: Adam Smith

At nearly 180 years old, the structure by famed physician Jacob Bigelow was simply too small to fit the needs of today. It lacked enough room for crematories and receptions, as well as access for people with disabilities. But there was an even bigger problem: how to complement its quirky Gothic Revival design full of jagged crockets, stained-glass windows and jutting spires. Deciding that adding more of that style wouldn’t work, Lasky opted for a modern look, wrapping the chapel with a brilliant rectangular frame of glass and steel.

The minimalist annex—though doubling the space—feels more like a passage than a place. On the inside, the glassy reception hall gives the illusion of standing in the sprawling, 175-acre grounds. The area for cremation ceremonies, in contrast, is closed and meditative, draped in walls of anigre wood and looking out to a small garden of rocks and shrubs. Modern makes sense, Lasky says, because Mount Auburn “has been a place that always embraced the new.”

BIGELOW CHAPEL 580 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge (617-547-7105)

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