Maggie’s Centres: A Blueprint for Cancer Care
New York School of Interior Design, NYSID Gallery
161 East 69th Street, New York.
Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Through April 25, 2014
These are the requirements that were put to Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid, Piers Gough, Steven Holl, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, and thus far eleven other architects when asked to design Maggie’s Centres, buildings in the U.K. where “free practical, emotional, and social support to people with cancer, their family and friends” are provided.
When diagnosed with breast cancer, Maggie Keswick Jencks suffered not only the disease and its treatment, but the environment where she spent many precious hours of her waning life. She wrote, “we waited in this awful interior space…waiting in itself is not so bad—[it] is the circumstances in which you have to wait that count. Overhead (sometimes even neon) lighting, interior spaces with no views out and miserable seating against the walls all contribute to extreme mental and physical enervation. Patients who arrive relatively hopeful soon start to wilt.”
Determined to change that, garden designer and author Maggie Keswick, who married architect and critic Charles Jencks in 1978 after meeting at the Architecture Association in London, set about creating a new paradigm. After living with the last round of the disease for two years, she died in 1995 at age 53 and never lived to see the completion the next year of the first drop-in center in Edinburgh by Richard Murphy, although she worked closely with him on the design and developed a blueprint for the concept. (Maggie knew 14 of the Maggie’s Centre architects.) This first center was shortlisted for a 1997 RIBA Stirling Prize, setting the tone for quality architecture to improve the quality of life.
The exhibition displays how the architects interpreted the brief differently. The concept for Rogers’s Charing Cross Hospital center is of a heart wrapped protectively by the optimistic orange-colored exterior walls and capped by a sheltering, overhanging roof. Built on a parking lot between a busy road and the large early 1970s grey, modernist hospital block, the building is inward looking to a world of courtyards and social space, more like a Roman or Islamic dwelling, according to Rogers. It won the 2009 RIBA Stirling Prize.
Gehry’s center in Dundee, Scotland, is a white, cottage-like structure with a crenellated roofline and conical tower that has become so iconic it graced a postage stamp. Gehry’s stated goal was to make it “heymish,” Yiddish for homey. The heart is the kitchen, and the exterior garden designed by Arabella Lenox-Boyd is a concentric circular maze of stone and grass.
Gough’s Nottingham centre was a collaboration with city-native fashion designer Paul Smith who designed the interiors. The building sports bright green symmetrical facades of interlocking ovals (the model in the exhibition resembles a soup tureen, but the building has been described as a green treehouse with Prince Charles ears).
Koolhaas’s centre at Gartnavel Hospital, Glasgow, is a refuge nestled in a wood. Its interconnecting rooms obviate the need for a corridor. They are spun in a circle around a central courtyard. The facade is white concrete, and the interior garden by daughter Lily Jencks is like bones with mirrors. OMA project architect Richard Hollington wanted to achieve the spirit of their Maison Bordeaux, a house built around a hydraulic platform elevator for a wheelchair user.
The as yet unbuilt St. Bartholomew’s in London by Steven Holl is planned as a 3-story contrasting lantern with colored light washing the interior walls and floors. The exterior of the building features matte glass organized in horizontal bands like a musical staff, while the internal concrete structure branches like the hand. The exhibition logo uses a Holl watercolor as its field.
If cancer is a form of life, then Maggie’s Centres attempt to harness that power and turn it into healing force.