Whilst in Edinburgh, I managed to slip outside of town for a bit to check out Zaha Hadid's first built project in the UK: her 2006 design for a Maggie's Center in Kirkcaldy in Fife, which also happens to be the home district of recently resigned PM Gordon Brown. There are a serveral Maggie's Centers across the UK and they offer emotional, spiritual, and psychological aid to those diagnosed with cancer and their families. A small army of star architects have leant their skills to Maggie's cause including Frank Gehry, and I was thrilled to get to visit a fine intersection of good design and goodwill. Have a look at the slideshow to see what I saw.
Viewed from the front, the Center is quite a break with the grounds of the hospital where it sits. Some Maggie's workers I met inside told me they'd learned that the black exterior is meant to evoke the local coal industry and that the form of the structure evokes a boat.
One of the best bits about this Maggie's Center is that you never feel as though you're in a medical facility per se. When I first entered and found myself in this homey nook I figured I'd used the wrong entrance and missed the lobby or waiting room altogether. Not at all, it turns out.
Here you can see the triangle motif from the exterior moved inside into the living room style space. Though many of the triangles are in fact windows punched into the envelope of the building, many others are actually lights. There's plenty of natural daylight from the massive glazed window on to the terrace, though.
There are a handful of impromptu seating areas around the space (which itself can't be more than the size of a small house) which allow for different sorts of interaction. The cowhide Eames chairs add a playful touch.
I had a nice chat, as well as a cup of coffee and a stellar shortbread biscuit, with Ruth McCabe (left) of Maggie's Center. The main space of the center, and the one to which many visitors gravitate, is what is ostensibly the dining room. "There's a warmth and comfort about it," McCabe said of the building. "It's a lovely place to work in. You feel like you're at home." I'd easily say the same of Ruth, who is easily the sweetest person I've yet met on this tour. The other gentleman in the photo, Andrew, has been coming to the Center for a while. He's also confident about a Lib-Dem and Torie alliance.
Here's a closer view of the kitchen. And if ever a place embodied tea and sympathy it's Maggie's Center. Ruth McCabe told me that often first time visitors don't want to immediately want to get into discussions of their suffering and so she sends them straightaway to get a cup of tea or coffee. "It's an easy task that anyone can do," she says. "I try to put them on this path of taking a bit of charge of things. Start with tea and then we'll move from there."
A colorful bookshelf sits just behind the table and actually mirrors the colorful stacks of tea in the kitchen space. It's a lending library that addresses many aspects of having and living with cancer, making it one of the valuable resources at Maggie's Center.
Once you pass the kitchen area the circulation curves around back toward the living room space. Along the way there's this little computer nook.
Past the computer nook is this curved wall of pamphlets, books, and literature about cancer, coping, and surviving.
One of Hadid's design goals was to make the space as flexible as possible, so though there are two private rooms where people can meet behind closed doors, the main social spaces are defined by a pair of curtains which themselves can offer some privacy without totally shutting out the rest of the building.
The terrace overlooks a grassy gully and the setback allows lots of natural light. The railing cants inward in a very Hadid touch, one of the few signature moves in the building, which at least on the interior, is quite restrained.
Here's another view of the terrace pulled back a bit. The sharp, triangular form of the building is echoed by the windows and lights. It's also rather low and small, emphasizing the human scale of the care given inside.
Here you can see the massive construction going on at Victoria Hospital just behind Maggie's Center.
I snapped this photo from the walkway up to the building. Tu Mong Edwards works in the office which she likened to "a cupboard." Cramped though it is, she notes that "For a charity that focuses on cancer, it's amazing how much laughter echoes off the walls here. The space is really inspiring."
Here's that triangular motif again. A young woman I met at Maggie's Center told me she thought that "the triangle represents these different points in your life. Sometimes things get really hard at the points, and then they smooth out again." Quite perceptive, I'd say.