A dose of Vitamin D, a dash of natural visual connections, a pinch of vivid colour pallet and plenty of greens, are a perfect recipe for a recovery centre. Established in April 2016, this 1922 square meters area is a cancer recovery centre in Manchester. This naturally illuminated architectural marvel uses wood as the primary material. The triangular trusses, the heavy beams and transparent partitions are laid in wood covered with a blanket of green. Maggie’s Manchester Centre was awarded sixteen awards in the two years after its construction. 

Design Philosophy

There are over 20 Maggie’s centres spread in the UK and one in Hong Kong. The foundation was laid in memory of Maggie Keswick Jencks who shuffled up the mortal coil to cancer. Though each centre has a similar design brief, they propagate their unique atmospheres to ease the impacts caused by cancer on an individual’s physical and mental being. Architects from across the world were chosen and commissioned for these centres. The client, Keswick Jencks, required that the architects perceive the project as “In essence, they must approach their commission as if it has never been done before.”

Foster also admits that involvement in this project was extremely personal. Maggie’s Manchester centre is not only the largest among all the centres but was carried out completely pro bono abetted by the passion and commitment of architects at Foster’s. 

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View of Maggie’s Manchester from one of the outdoor verandahs_©Nigel Young

Design Details

The single-floor low-lying open plan is wrapped in multiple open and semi-open verandahs. The unapparent entrance leads you to a series of spaces guided by light and transparent partition walls. The first space a visitor lands in is the kitchen area where volunteers discuss meals and plan the day. With the idea to create “a home away from home”, Fosters rejects the usual reception desk and waiting room. The colour palette throughout the eye level is simple and natural creating warmth, while blue-black Staffordshire brick pavers run criss-cross, exterior to the interior on the floor characterising a feeling of closeness to the ground. The modish furniture and bright coloured rugs uplift the spirits and give the visitors a personalized experience. Making the kitchen the focal point, a symmetric layout of spaces immediately makes the patients at ease and in flow with the connections to nature visible from floor to floor glassed walls. The final design element is the shallow wooden truss roofs, which give a feeling of grandeur and hope.

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Plan of Maggie’s Manchester centre_©Foster and Partners
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Sectional Elevation of Maggie’s Manchester centre_©Foster and Partners

The dramatic yet calming landscape of the center is one of its best features. Though the center is a few kilometers away from Christie Hospital, it feels like miles away owing to the exceptional landscape spread. The alliance of laminated veneer lumber trussed roofs bridges the interior and open spaces. This timber structure is the highlight of the center as it brings back the traditional tools and processes of architecture, that is, prefabrication, light weight construction and focus on natural light and quality of spaces. These open and semi-open spaces are therapeutic and calming, hence, many visitors are likely to come back to find their niche. The verandah rightly comforts the sufferers by giving a private yet a space where they can openly seek help.  

Design Process

Multi-disciplinary specialists were involved in the project such as architects, engineers, model makers, mathematicians, product designers and sustainability experts. The design started with free-hand sketches and experimenting with different colour palettes in those sketches. The initial form of the building was the outcome of various Perspex models. This model helped to design the flow of rooms and their related functions. Each space has been carved thoughtfully interacting with various volunteers working at the centre. The centre offers advice on all daily and occasional matters, from wig fitting to financial matters. Additionally, a library with helpful books and a lavatory where one can isolate to peace are designed on the same level. The bountiful gardens surrounding these spaces offer visual comfort and therapeutic scent and finally, the use of wood gives warmth when touched. For example, it is comforting to touch the wooden rails while going up to the mezzanine floor instead of cold metal railings. Additionally, the flow of spaces is instinctual with no formal references such as corridors, receptions and sign boards. 

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Construction phase of triangular truss_©Foster and Partners

Many architects and designers will be enchanted by the linear plan punctured by generous green verandahs on all sides. This might be the most common and simple design scheme incorporated across buildings globally, but Fosters and Partners have managed to erect an incomparable structure. What makes it more special is that Fosters and Partners took this project out of their comfort zone. The abundant use of greens, natural light and applied sensitivity with specific material use is incomparable to the high-tech buildings for which Fosters is known. The intention to reject an institution-like atmosphere and achieve a comforting and emotionally supportive atmosphere is laudable. Foster says, “The purpose of this building is to provide a refuge where you are, hopefully, comforted and informed, particularly after your diagnosis. Before this, you will have received the life-changing news in an institutional environment.”

References:

Gillian Darley (2016). Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners: ‘What matters is not to lose that joy of living in the fear of dying’. [online]. Available at: https://www.architectural-review.com/buildings/maggies-manchester-by-foster-partners-what-matters-is-not-to-lose-that-joy-of-living-in-the-fear-of-dying [Accessed date: 8/07/2022].

Laura Mark (2016). Exclusive building study: Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners. [online]. Available at: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/buildings/exclusive-building-study-maggies-manchester-by-foster-partners [Accessed date: 8/07/2022].

Foster and Partners (2016). Maggie’s Manchester. [online]. Available at: https://www.fosterandpartners.com/projects/maggie-s-manchester/ [Accessed date: 8/07/2022].

Images/visual mediums

  1. Nigel Young. (2016). Maggie’s Manchester. [photograph].
  2. Fosters and Partners. (2016). Maggie’s Manchester. [photograph].
Author

Shikha is an urban planner whose work is focused on climate responsive planning and ecosystems in neighbourhood planning. She has a keen interest in comprehending human connections in city spaces through ways of engaging with the community. Her passion for books, travelling, fiction and research writing keeps her motivated.

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