A new Maggie’s Centre, designed by Wilkinson Eyre, has opened in the grounds of Churchill Hospital, Oxford. It is set in a small but protected copse of mature trees which screen it from the massive hospital building nearby.
Maggie’s Centres were inspired by the late Maggie Keswick Jencks, herself a sufferer from cancer; they offer a place of refuge for people with cancer, their family and friends, where they can find free practical and emotional support, a chance to talk to professional staff and a place to meet others – or just sit for a cup of tea. Great value is placed on the power of architecture to lift the spirits and to help in therapy. The first Maggie’s Centre opened in Edinburgh in 1966 and there are now 18 in the UK and abroad, many designed by eminent architectural practices. A new Maggie’s Centre, designed by Wilkinson Eyre, has opened in the grounds of Churchill Hospital, Oxford. It is set in a small but protected copse of mature trees which screen it from the massive hospital building nearby. This woodland setting inspired the building form; like a tree house, it is raised on timber columns, treading lightly on the landscape and appearing to float among the trees. Its shape, a series of fragmented planes wrapping round a tripartite plan, allows the structure to fit among the existing trees. Large areas of glass create a strong connection between the internal spaces and the surrounding treescape. Reflecting the woodland setting, timber was the natural choice of material for structure and fabric, to achieve sustainability and to create a warm and welcoming interior. The tree house concept and the use of timber fulfilled a vital requirement of the brief, one common to all Maggie’s Centres, that visitors should experience a tranquil yet friendly interior, informal and decidedly non-clinical. Visitors cross a pedestrian bridge to reach the centre and once inside, find themselves in the welcoming heart of the building, an open plan space with a kitchen, dining table and wood-burning stove. Three informal openplan wings emanate from this central space; one wing houses a library and office for practical information, another, with an external terrace, is for relaxing, sitting and group activities and a third is a wing of smaller, more intimate consulting rooms for emotional support and therapy. All the spaces have a friendly and inviting domestic scale; some have large glazed walls looking out over woodland; others offer quiet spaces for retreat and reflection. Shafts of light fill the central spaces through clerestory glazing set above partition walls and through slotted openings in the roof. (There are also also slots in the floor to give views of the landscape below). The outside terrace and balconies lead to steps going down to the woodland to give visitors the chance to explore the landscape.