Maggie’s Centres – named after their founder Maggie Keswick Jencks – provide help and advice as well as a space to be to cancer patients and their relatives. Since its first centre opened in Edinburgh, Maggie’s has grown from a one-off project to a network of 22 centres worldwide and 7 further currently planned. Each Maggie’s has its individual identity and the list of designers tasked with delivery reads like the who is who of 21st century architecture – Richard Murphy, Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers, Rem Koolhaas...
Designing a Maggie’s centre may well feel like a knightly accolade. The design brief doesn’t lack challenge: A beacon of hope. Welcoming but not too cosy. With a domestic ethos and plenty of natural light.
Based on the hypothesis that the built environment and design are central to human health and wellbeing, Maggie’s Centres put a strong emphasis on providing a patient friendly, supportive and secure environment that offers the intimacy of a home, inviting furniture, spaces for privacy and retreat as well as zones for chance encounters and story sharing over a cuppa.
Maggie’s husband Charles Jencks refers to the “architectural placebo effect”; noting that a building can act as “a secondary therapy, a feedback therapy.” The architectural brief states: ‘These places should look as if they are acknowledging what people are going through, saluting the magnitude of the challenge they are facing and themselves rising to the challenge of trying to help. They should be beautiful.’
More specifically, the architecture in itself is tasked to nudge its users into mental and behavioural spaces. The design must assist patients to overcome fear by recognising it takes courage to enter a centre; helping them draw on strengths they think they no longer have. In this sense, buildings are required offer choice to visitors on how they want to use the space, to confirm their competence and ability to make choices and encourage them to make use of options; to be a shelter that encourages its users to look out and engage with the outside world; to entice people to engage with each other and coax them out of their feeling of isolation.
Common to all Maggie’s Centres is the use of natural materials in interior design and furnishings, beautifully crafted bespoke timber joinery more the rule than the exception as shown at Maggie’s Lanarkshire.
A range of Maggie’s Centres are built using timber structures, notably the Dundee centre by Frank Gehry – then the most elaborate timber frame in Scotland; Maggie’s Manchester by Foster+Partners with its delicate timber lattice structure using LVL columns and trusses; Maggie’s Oldham by dRMM, the first permanent building constructed from tulipwood CLT.
The use of timber architecture responds to the common design themes designers associate with Healing Environment, such as nature, spatial experience, domesticity, and privacy. The latter is increasingly recognised to influence human beings and their wellbeing.
The first Maggie’s Centre in Edinburgh – Richard Murphy video with CH. Jencks
Images: Alex De Rijke; David Grandorge; Nigel Young; Fosters + Partners