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Article Architecture Health

The architecture of hope


Words by Kristina Foster

Photos by Foster + Partners

In 1993, Maggie Keswick Jencks was told that her breast cancer had returned during a busy clinic appointment. She was then swiftly asked to move into the corridor to allow the doctor to continue seeing other patients. After this experience, Maggie, who was a garden designer and her husband, Charles, an architect, began to envision an environment that deconstructed the conceptions of cold health institutions. They set down plans for a new kind of cancer care centre inspired by the healing qualities of nature and architecture, an aesthetic hybrid which Charles Jencks dubbed ‘the architecture of hope’. Today there are 17 Maggie’s Centres across the UK, Scotland, and Hong Kong. We talked to Sinéad Collins, Centre Head of the newly opened Maggie’s Manchester, about the therapeutic qualities of the building’s garden.
Photo via maggiescentres.org

A healing environment

Like other Maggie’s Centres, Maggie’s Manchester pays homage to the natural environment by making green space an integral part of the building’s structure. Designed by architectural giant Norman Foster, who specialises in erecting some of the world’s most recognisable monuments such as the Hearst Tower in New York, his greenhouse structure invites beautiful views of the surrounding garden. Sinéad tells us “like all Maggie’s Centres, Manchester Centre has been designed with a therapeutic intent. It follows the architectural brief that Maggie herself wrote which took inspiration from research that showed how buildings and environments had a hand in making people feel uplifted and relaxed.”

In the greenhouse, glass walls incite a perfect synergy between inside and outside space. “It’s here that people sit at the table together to have lunch and chat about their own gardens or their beloved gardens of the past. Some visitors no longer have a garden of their own and love to be part of ours.”

A sense of relief

The garden is much more than just an aesthetic feature in Maggie’s Centres. All are built on NHS hospital sites and these green spaces have been designed to function as a transitory passage between hospital and centre, introducing the patient to a place where they can relax and meet other people. Sinéad relates their reactions upon entering the building, saying that “without exception, visitors have been affected by the environment. They comment on the light, the airiness and the smell of exposed wood. The sense of community is immediately palpable. I have been with visitors who have been moved to tears simply by the sense of relief of being here.”

Maggie’s Manchester has a low-maintenance, evergreen garden, designed by the award-winning landscape designer Dan Pearson. Here they have raised vegetable beds which volunteers harvest for cooking. “Soups are a big favourite!” Sinéad explains, “we also have herbs, strawberries and an orchard. The large flowerbeds along the border of the garden provide a buffer between the centre and the noise and stress of the outside world.”

The centre actively involves visitors with their natural surroundings through gardening sessions, which are hugely popular according to Sinéad. “Centre users help us harvest the fruit and vegetables daily and gather sweet peas to put in vases throughout the building. Our gardener is also on hand to offer professional advice if necessary. It’s really become a place to share ideas, skills and stories. People frequently comment on the sense of peace they feel here.”