words Ana Vukadin
“This is probably one of the worst sites you can possibly imagine to build a care centre in!” laughs Richard Rogers, referring to the first Maggie’s Centre in England, which was designed by Rogers Harbour Stirk + Partners and opened in May.
Situated next to Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith, on the busy Fulham Palace Road, the cancer care centre sticks out like a lantern with its smooth orange concrete walls and “floating” roof.
“For the most part, the structure was really a response to the environment,” explains partner Ivan Harbour. “It had to do with acoustics and privacy. We conceptually wanted to create an arm that wraps around the building and cocoons it.” The form of the centre has been compared to that of a snail, with the sheltered entrance reached via a winding path and accessed laterally, like the head of a snail protruding from its shell.
“Hospitals generally tend to make you feel worse once you walk through the door. Here we wanted to deliver a space that was uplifting, informal and comforting,” says Harbour. The open-plan kitchen, at the centre of the building, has a fireplace and forms the heart of the Maggie’s Centre. Rooms of varying sizes radiate from it, including a library, an internet corner and group-discussion and activity spaces. On the mezzanine level there are more rooms, which can provide additional seating and workspaces for staff. Soft timber is used throughout the interiors, and colourful Alvar Aalto furniture and Paola Lenti rugs add to the cosy feeling. Everything in the space is geared towards creating a warm, domestic environment: most of the doors are sliding so that people can feel free to walk anywhere they want and there is a refreshing absence of signage, adding to the anti-institutional mood.
The whole centre is interspersed with small winter gardens both inside and out, designed by British landscape architect Dan Pearson, and is delicately covered by an inverted roof. “We cantilevered the roof as far as it could go, and supported it on slight steel crops, so that it appears to be almost floating,” says Harbour. “We also perforated parts of the roof that fan out over the open spaces to enable more light to seep through.”
“I think that one of the most successful things about the centre is the layering of space, especially with the delayed entrance and the mixture of communal and private rooms,” adds Harbour. “People can feel uncomfortable about actually entering a cancer care centre because it confronts them with the reality of cancer, but here they can enter gradually, taking as long as they need to. They can come by the path and sit on a bench, or just enter and make some tea in the kitchen, take a look at the library.”
images Morley Von Sternberg