Following Maggie Keswick Jencks’ belief that people should not “lose the joy of living in the fear of dying,” Maggie’s centers are places where people with cancer can go with their families for free practical and emotional support. Maggie herself was a vivid gardener and understood the calming and restorative effect it can have.
Thomas Heatherwick interpreted the brief ‘to create a home that people wouldn’t dare build for themselves’ into three lush overlapping rooftop gardens supported by branch-like glulam fins. The resulting interior looks like sitting in the hull of a ship.
To minimize disruption Heatherwick had the timber structure manufactured in Switzerland and assembled on location in just eight weeks. Timber stud walls connected to glulam fins hold up the CLT roof panels. The structural wood is mostly forested spruce. A material that expands and contracts with the seasons.
The building is made up out of three large volumes that function as counselling pavilions, with common rooms in between them, organised in a circle around a central space. The layout is meant to create an open and inviting space. The building has a front and back entrance. Front for visitors, back for staff and residents.
Special attention is given to the front entrance. The designers tried to make it as less intimidating as possible to enter, by moving it to the side, under an intimate roof and adding a bench to ease the psychological threshold.
When entering the visitor is welcomed by a window seat, notice board and direct view through to the heart of the center. The heart houses the communal table placed in the arc of a staircase that leads to the kitchen. The kitchen is an important feature in all Maggie centers and represents another threshold, the point where visitors feel ready to share their experience.
The architects looked for ways to make the building feel like home with the use of warm natural materials, lush greenery, abundant natural light and shelves filled with nick-knacks. Lights were integrated at an early stage of the process into the shelves that are placed in between the fins. They mean to give the idea the wooden cores could glow.
Landscape designer Balston Agius opted for planting based on the British woodlands, with hardy native species that support the area's biodiversity.