Maggie’s is a charity that provides support for people with cancer. Heatherwick Studio designed the UK’s 26th Maggie’s Centre on the campus of Europe’s largest teaching hospital, St. James’s University Hospital in Leeds. The new building, Maggie’s Leeds, was built on a grassy slope, close to an existing structure, taking advantage of the twenty foot (6m) drop of the site to provide visitors with views across the Yorkshire Dales.
The layout of Maggie’s Leeds is highly original. The pillars of support at Maggie’s are its counselling rooms. These have been organized around the common areas, which include spaces for group activities, a library, a gym, and the kitchen, which occupies the heart of the building. The roof follows the slope of the site, making it possible to open the interiors to the green spaces already present here. The roof itself comprises three overlapping gardens that step down and provide shelter to the common areas.
To encourage the wellbeing and care of its guests, the design of Maggie’s Leeds followed the charity’s philosophy, turning it into a building that helps people feel better. Reflecting this approach, the entire building was constructed using natural materials and with innovative energy-saving techniques. It was built using a prefabricated system constructed using sustainably sourced red fir, which expands and contracts with the seasons as if it were alive. The interiors are characterized by glulam fins, whose modulations create the impression of tree branches supporting the building. Taking advantage of the feelings of warmth and familiarity conveyed by natural wood, the designers included shelves between the timber fins that guests can decorate with knick-knacks, pot plants, or whatever they like, as if they were in their own home. The use of wood carries through to the roof, which is constructed from cross-laminated timber. Even the tables are inspired by the building’s timber fins, and constructed from cork and engineered beech.
Thomas Heatherwick, the founder of Heatherwick Studio, says, “It's been a tremendous experience and honor to design the Maggie’s Centre in Leeds. Our aim was to build a home for people affected by cancer that would be soulful and welcoming, unlike other typical clinical environments. By only using natural, sustainable materials, and immersing the building in thousands of plants, there was a chance for us to make an extraordinary environment capable of inspiring visitors with hope and perseverance during their difficult health journeys. Maggie’s Leeds has been a very special project for me and my team because we are convinced that there are kinder, more empathic ways to design places that can have powerful impacts on the way that we feel. This is particularly important in the design of healthcare environments but is so frequently overlooked.
Architect: Heatherwick Studio
Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
Year: June 2020
Photography by © Hufton+Crow
courtesy of Heatherwick Studio