I started this series in 2012 as a way to spread the world about the awesome work that Maggie’s do, using design and architecture to make people’s lives better. Each month I feature a different centre and this month it’s the turn of Maggie’s Highlands, shown above looking (to me at least!) like a beacon of hope in a stormy sky.
Maggie’s offers emotional, practical and social support to people with cancer and their families and friends. The centres offer a sanctuary when all else is at sea.
Maggie’s Highlands was designed by architecture firm Page \ Park and was inspired by the division of cells (mitosis) in a healthy individual, when cells are in balance and communicating with each other. Just before they break in two, each cells forms a ‘vesica’ shape; like an oval, but with points at either end. This shape is repeated throughout the building and landscape architecture.
The idea of interconnected, living cells is also communicated by connections between the building and its surrounding gardens, designed by Charles Jencks, such as the green colour seen both in the copper roof of the building and the turn in the landforms, and the repeated angles, dimensions and vesica shape. Healthy cells constantly communicate with each other to maintain balance and harmony – the idea is that the building and its gardens are doing the same.
Page \ Park explain how the healthy cells concept runs right through the landscape architecture: “The visual illusion created by white and green stripes travels from one mound, or nucleus of the cell, to the other. This is one of those signals so important to cell balance and health – what is known as the long, or endocrine signal. Communication between cells, the constant chatter, is a path to health, just as is the decision to eat well, exercise and transform one’s daily life.” I love the level of thought and detail that has gone into providing a healthy environment for people with cancer. And whilst many will miss it, it provides some intrigue and complexity for those who wish to explore it. Helping people to find a new perspective on their cancer experience is crucial to the support that Maggie’s offers and sometimes huge, grass covered, visual metaphors can help!
The building continues the mitosis theme and is constructed from ‘vesica’ spirals. The overlapping of two of these spirals represents the exact moment in cell division, known as anaphase, that two distinct cells become apparent.
Inside, is a flexible yet homely environment. The ground floor is an open plan space that contains the kitchen, lounge, dining room and library, each of which can be separated off with sliding doors for specific activities to create privacy when required. When the doors are open, people can interact with each other and there’s a real sense of connection with the outside space. Smaller, cosy counselling rooms are tucked under the a mezzanine providing more intimate spaces.
Different people need different things at different stages of their cancer experience, and even just from day to day, so this flexibility is really important in making sure they can always find the space they need at Maggie’s. As Page \ Park put it: “Rooms to talk privately and ‘hide’, and other spaces to quietly sit and contemplate. Spaces to socialise and chat, and other areas to sit and look at the landscaping and gardens.”
Further reading for the especially geeky: