It’s very difficult to pick a favourite Maggie’s centre, because they are all such special places, but before I started working with Maggie’s, I spent an incredible week at Maggie’s Dundee as part of my induction, so if pushed, I think I would have to choose Dundee.
Maggie’s Dundee is at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, overlooking the Tay Estuary and across to North Fife. It was the third centre and the first to be purpose built. It was designed by world renowned architect Frank Gehry, probably best known for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. He also created the Design Museum at the Vitra Campus.
He is known for making anywhere of the region of 60 models before he’s happy with a design, and in this case, he felt extra pressure, because Maggie had been a close personal friend. It is said that eventually she came to him in a dream and said, “just get on with it Frank!” So he did, and his next model was the final design.
The design took shape by starting with the building blocks of the spaces that Maggie’s said they needed inside. Frank then designed the structure around them – and in his signature style, there isn’t a straight line in the building. The shape of the main building was inspired by simple Highland dwellings known as Brochs, while the metal roof echoes the folds of a dutch hat worn by a girl in a Vermeer painting.
There is a raised platform outside providing external seating for visitors to take in the stunning view – when it’s warm enough! For the rest of the year, most of the windows face out over the estuary, giving a feeling of protection from the hospital. But the view is best from the upstairs sitting room, which comes complete with a wood burning stove and tapestry by Eduardo Paolozzi.
In my work as a writer for Maggie’s, I frequently describe the centres as “comforting, yet inspiring” or “reassuring, yet uplifting.” Without having visited a centre, it’s hard to imagine how that might be true – surely those two sets of emotions are quite different – how can you be comforted and inspired at the same time? But I can honestly say, that when you walk into Maggie’s Dundee, you feel at home, safe and protected, and yet somehow at the same time it lifts you, makes you walk a little bit taller, makes you feel like you might be capable of more than you thought you were. And that, in essence, is what’s so important about Maggie’s architecture.
The gardens are important too – and this one features a thirty-three metre diameter labyrinth by landscape designer Arabella Lenox-Boyd, which links the hospital to the Maggie’s Centre. It serves as a place for activities like t’ai chi and warming up before Nordic walking, a peaceful buffer between the centre and the hospital, and also as a useful distraction. Both are overlooked by a sculpture by Anthony Gormley.
Frank Gehry said, “I think it’s an inviting building, I think people will want to come inside and spend time there, and I really hope that in some small way it might contribute to a sense of rejuvenated vigour for moving forward and living life.” I was very privileged to spend a week talking to people who use the centre and to hear their stories, some of which will stay with me forever, and without doubt this building achieves all of those things – it really is a very special place.