creative spaces :: maggie’s cancer caring centre

My creative spaces posts are usually about the environments that creative people work in, implying an effect of their surroundings on their creativity. We all know instinctively that our surroundings affect how we feel and behave, but this month’s creative space goes as far as to help people cope with one of the most traumatic things any of us can face, cancer.

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

I was recently privileged to spend a few hours visiting and photographing the Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre in London. It is at once homely and uplifting, down-to-earth and incredibly moving. Richard Rogers and his team at Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners have created an oasis of calm in a challenging spot between Fulham Palace Road and Charring Cross Hospital. Definitely a worthy winner of the 2009 Stirling Prize.

The first thing you notice is that it doesn’t smell like a hospital – and this has been carefully considered, they intentionally use different cleaning products to make sure that it doesn’t. It’s amazing what a difference that little insight makes.

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

The ethos of the centres is all about empowering people, so on your first visit, someone will make you a cup of tea, but after that you help yourself. The big kitchen table contributes to the homely atmosphere, as do the wobbly mugs, and provides space for patients to talk in a safe environment. Equally, newspapers give those who don’t feel like talking something to hide behind.

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

Maggie Keswick Jenks wrote A View from the Front Line in 1994 while suffering with cancer for the second time. It talked about cancer from the patient’s point of view and showed what patients needed – beyond medical treatment. By May 1995, and now suffering from cancer for the third and final time, she had written a blueprint for a space where patients could come to receive support in whatever form they needed – from a cup of tea to benefits advice, from art therapy to counselling.  Sadly, Maggie passed away before the first Cancer Caring Centre was completed in 1996, but she had done the necessary ground work, and her husband Charles made sure it was finished.

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

Given Maggie’s experience that information can be very empowering as long as there’s someone you can discuss it with, each centre features a library of literature like this one. Often, ‘popping in for a leaflet’ can serve as a door opener for those nervous about coming in. Benefits advice is the number one reason given by people on their first visit, and is a crucial service to help with the loss of income that often accompanies long-term illness. (Every detail is considered, right down to the cushions, designed to appeal to the large number of ethnic minorities using this centre.)

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

But it’s perhaps some of the softer benefits that keep people coming back, the aromatic gardens, the fact that some form of outside space is visible from every room and the quiet spaces to read or reflect.

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

The range of services on offer from counselling to relaxation techniques and tai chi to visualisation techniques are designed help patients with the dark places their minds can take them to at 2am when friends or family aren’t around. Practical support such as nutritional advice to deal with suppressed appetites and damaged taste buds is also on hand.

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

But again the little touches, like a chair and a magazine rack in every toilet, giving people time and space to compose themselves after a private cry, show the level of insight and empathy that’s gone into the design and architecture of these centres.

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

The architect’s brief is surprisingly open, and as a result each centre delivers that perfect combination of comfort and inspiration differently. In the London centre, the warm orange colour is as welcoming as the open arms of the building that surround the entrance and draw you in. The double height open space at the centre provides a sense of optimism and empowerment, while little cosy nooks cocoon you away from the world. While natural materials like wood, and even the polished concrete, are nurturing, the acid colours are energising.

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, London

I found my visit inspiring and humbling, and most of all it was an important reminder of what design is for. It’s for making people’s lives better, and I can’t think of a better example of that than Maggie’s.

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Further reading for the especially geeky:
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4 responses to “creative spaces :: maggie’s cancer caring centre

  1. Wow Katie this is such a great post. I love how much care and thought went into designing the centre. It’s projects like this that stops interior design feeling shallow and something that’s just for posh people who live in Kensington. It really shows how much impact good design can have on everyone’s day to day life. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Annie x

  2. lovely post, and I totally agree with your last statement.

  3. Hi Katie,
    Thank you so much for writing such a beautiful piece about the amazing Maggies Centre. I regularly visit the Maggies Centre and find it a place of calm in the frenetic and scary world of cancerland.

    The design and thought/planning given to the building, the views and landscape, the interior layout, log burner in the winter and light and air in the summer… really inspirational building and amazing people at Maggies.

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