Maggie’s Centre, Hong Kong 10.06.13

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Frank Gehry's second Maggie's Centre is an intimate building inspired by Chinese design, overlooking gardens created by Lily Jencks

It is now 18 years since the writer and designer Maggie Keswick Jencks died, and in that time her vision of specially designed, beautiful spaces for the care of cancer sufferers and their families has had wonderful results. After the first examples were built in Scotland, designed by native firms such as Richard Murphy Architects and Page\Park, Maggie's husband, the architect and writer Charles Jencks, began to get old contacts involved. Soon Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers and OMA had all built one of these small but significant projects. Now Gehry has finished his second Maggie's Centre, designed in collaboration with the Jencks' daughter, Lily. Located in Hong Kong, it is the first new-build centre outside the UK.

Keswick Jencks' guiding principle for how the centres should work could be expressed as "Welcome! And don't worry. We are here to reassure you, and your treatment will be good and helpful to you." The idea was that these centres, while not specifically treatment areas, would provide pleasant spaces where people could wait for the daunting consultations – so often the moment when lives are turned upside down. There would also be quiet rooms where patients could retire for privacy and areas for research and information on treatments, both conventional and complementary.

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As far as the architectural responses went, the earliest designs were often conversions and were generally finely detailed additions to existing buildings on hospital grounds, in soft, organic materials. Recently, designers have moved into more abstract territory, often designed from the inside out, such as OMA's 2011 effort at Gartnavel hospital in Glasgow.

Gehry's original design, from 2003, sat somewhere between these two approaches. At a time when his designs were often rather metallic and artificial, this small almost vernacular building with a friendly timber roof showed Gehry still had his old way with material and juxtaposition.

The new building is cut from a similar cloth: a series of individual spaces are brought together, each with a timber-framed ridge roof running into each other, creating a jumbled but friendly roofscape. Keswick Jencks grew up in Hong Kong, and felt a lifelong affection for the place that Gehry has tried to acknowledge in the design. He says: "I hope it's not copying anything Chinese or architectural, but I hope it's very respectful of them."

The pavilions are designed to enable easy access in and out of the gardens, with a number of views and terraces opening out over the landscape. The gardens, which show classical Chinese influences, have been designed by Lily Jencks and include a large pond over which the building sits like a bridge.

This latest Maggie's design has added poignancy. Only a few years ago, Gehry's daughter, Lesley Gehry Brenner, died of uterine cancer, an experience that Gehry admits played its part in the design process: "I think you sort of suck it up and hope to make something that is soothing and respectful and hopeful. There's always hope, it's not a dead end."

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Douglas Murphy


Images: Pako Ko

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I hope it's not copying anything Chinese or architectural, but I hope it's very respectful of them

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