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Maggie’s Centres: A Blueprint for Cancer Care

A striking set of designs for patient treatment centers showcases architecture’s power to heal.

Maggie's Dundee exterior. Architect: Frank Gehry. Pic © Raf Makda, August 2003.

How often do you get to see Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Piers Gough, Sir Richard Rogers, and Steven Holl not only all take on the same challenge, but also get an opportunity to follow through on their vision? At the new exhibit Maggie's Centres: A Blueprint for Cancer Care, opening at the New York School of Interior Design March 7, photos and blueprints of cancer treatment centers designed by each of these famous architects will be on display. For students or fans, the most important item in the exhibit may be the creative brief. Since each architect created a center from the same set of requirements, the exhibit showcases an array of approaches to user-centric design. “It’s incredibly interesting that, given the same brief, everyone brings their own solution,” says John Minieri, the New York School of Interior Design's Public Programs Coordinator. “There isn’t a perfect one.”

Maggie’s Centres are the brainchild of the late Maggie Keswick Jencks, who passed away from cancer in 1993, and her husband Charles Jencks, an architectural writer, designer, and theorist who will speak at the exhibit’s opening reception on March 6. He’s championed the expanding program since its outset, from the first center in Edinburgh in 1996 to the expanded roster of 17 centers in the U.K. and beyond, arguing that architecture can’t cure cancer per se, but can improve the environment and healing process. (Dwell has previously covered designs by Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry's Hong Kong center.)

It’s informative to compare and contrast how each designer created their own contemplative space, from Sir Richard Rogers’ bright orange and optimistic West London Centre at Charing Cross Hospital to Maggie’s Gartnavel, Rem Koolhaas’ gorgeous glass-ringed structure that deftly showcases an interior courtyard and the surrounding landscape. Maggie’s Nottingham by Piers Gough, a graceful green oval that floats above the hospital grounds; Frank Gehry’s re-imagining of a Scottish cottage at Maggie’s Dundee; and Maggie’s Barts by Steven Holl, a yet unfinished addition to St. Bartholomew’s in North East London wrapped in colorful stained glass, complete the exhibition.

According to Samantha Hoover, the school's Director of External Relations, these Maggie’s Centre projects, still mostly unknown to a U.S. audience, allow the public to see work from these famed architects on a smaller scale, one more conducive to making a seamless connection between landscape, interiors, and exterior design. It's a more holistic approach that makes the entire exhibit an intriguing look into at the challenges of healthcare design.

“It’s not just about how they affect the patients,” says Hoover. “It’s also about the staff and their morale. This is an example of architecture that changes the way the staff reacts.”

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