Strength from Within
Strength from Within
Maggie’s Centres, the service-focused cancer support network, eschews clinical design to arm patients in their fight for life.
By Laura Raskin

Since the first Maggie’s Centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996, the innovative psychological and social support facilities for people with cancer and their caregivers, friends, and families have been designed and built at an impressive clip.

Twenty-one Centres are open in the U.K. on the grounds of National Health Service hospitals. There are three others in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Barcelona. And two more will open in the next six months.

An impressive roster of architects and designers, from Steven Holl and Zaha Hadid to Frank Gehry, has brought the Centres to life. The buildings’ small scale and follylike presentations are eye candy for magazines and blogs. Less emphasis, however, has been placed on the Centres’ unique program, which focuses on soft services rather than clinical care. Its proven therapeutic effects are inextricable from each building’s lush garden and residential interior, where guests will find warm finishes, such as wood or rusted steel, comfortable furnishings, and fine art.

Making a Maggie’s Centre feel like the opposite of a clinical environment has been at the heart of the design brief since Maggie Keswick Jencks spent the last year or so of her life envisioning the blueprint for such a space. The writer, artist, and garden designer— and wife of architectural theorist Charles Jencks— died in 1995, after years of cancer treatment. In the process of her treatment, Maggie became a fierce advocate for a refuge from the hospital. Crucially, she knew what these spaces shouldn’t be. In a handbook for coping with disease, Maggie wrote of how cheerless hospital waiting rooms lit by buzzing fluorescent lights sapped the vitality of patients, “who arrive relatively hopeful” but “soon start to wilt.”

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October 2019