Maggie’s Centres seek to provide ‘the architecture of hope’. They offer free practical and emotional support for people affected by cancer. Built in the grounds of NHS cancer hospitals, the centres are safe and welcoming spaces. They lift the spirits and set the scene for people to draw on strengths they may not have realised they had in order to cope.
The design of Maggie’s Oldham is all this and more – less about form and more about content. A simple yet sophisticated wooden box of surprises. Supported on slender columns, the building floats above a garden framed by pine, birch and tulip poplar trees. From a central oasis, a tree grows up through the building, bringing nature inside. On entering, the visitor is met with a space, light and unexpected views down to the garden below, up to the sky, and out to the Pennine horizon.
The use of wood at Maggie’s Oldham is part of a bigger design intention to reverse the norms of hospital architecture, where clinical institutionalised environments can make patients feel dispirited. In wood there is hope, humanity, scale and warmth. Maggie’s Oldham is the first permanent building constructed from sustainable tulipwood cross-laminated timber, following on from dRMM, AHEC and Arup’s development of this material. All of the walls and roof are visibly structure and form an exquisite natural timber finish internally. The tulipwood CLT has been carefully detailed to bring out its natural beauty – it’s fine, variegated finish is more akin to a piece of furniture than a construction material. The slatted ceiling was created from wood left over from the CLT fabrication process, ensuring no waste.
They have considered the use of wood at every opportunity. As those undergoing chemotherapy sometimes feel pain on touching cold objects, oak rather than metal door handles have been used. Wood fibre insulation ensures a breathable, healthy environment whilst the huge window frames are American white oak. Externally the building is draped in custom-fluted, thermally modified tulipwood, like a surreal theatrical curtain.
Maggie’s Oldham is a carefully made manifesto for the architecture of health, realised in wood. The Centre has been made possible by the enormous generosity of the Stoller Charitable Trust, which has fully funded the Centre.
Photo credits: Alex de Rijke, Jasmin Sohi, Tony Barwell