A vital force

Steven Holl Architects’ Maggie’s Cancer Centre at London’s oldest hospital is wrapped in a translucent facade, which takes historic musical design cues to enliven its interior and exterior. Sébastien Reed reports

monk, Rahere, giving the site for Maggie’s Centres’ most recent architectural foray a deep as well as challenging historical dimension. Steven Holl Architects were approached by Maggie’s – a charity devoted to providing free practical, emotional and social support to people affected both directly and indirectly by cancer – to lead the design for a contrasting new extension to James Gibbs’ 1740 hospital building. “One of the reasons we were selected was that we’ve done a lot of new contemporary buildings as extensions to historic buildings,” says project architect Chris McVoy. Steven Holl Architects boast a rich portfolio featuring progressive yet highly sensitive additions to heritage buildings, such as Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Higgins Hall Insertion for the Pratt Institute in New York City, and the Reid Building at the Glasgow School of Art. As with all Maggie’s Centres, the core aim was constructing a place of refuge where cancer patients can escape from the typical clinical and institutional atmosphere of a hospital. McVoy explains: “The idea is for you to be able to get up and make a cup of tea on your own without anyone’s help. It’s a kind of respite.” He adds: “It has much more to do with how it feels and performs, than technical requirements. It’s about how the building performs for the users. The architect’s role is to use the site as best as possible.” What has emerged from the collaboration is a brave and forward-thinking design which combines an innovative application of materials to


t. Bartholomew’s hospital (‘Barts’) in the City of London was founded in 1123 by Anglo-Norman priest and

house sector-leading facilities, all the while sensitively threading in thoughtful historical references to London’s medieval past.

Plan & provision Maggie’s Barts is more vertically organised than other Maggie’s Centres – and is spread over three floors. This was due to the denser urban location that the scheme was to occupy. It replaces a 1960s brick structure and sits adjacent to a 17th century stone building, housing the Great Hall and the historic Hogarth staircase.

The scheme was first envisioned by the architects as “a vessel within a vessel – within a vessel.” The structural frame is composed of concrete, while an inner bamboo layer and outer Okalux light- diffusing glass layer cocoon the interior spaces, and present a gentle aesthetic both internally and externally. Housed within these ‘vessels’ are, on the ground floor, two entrances at either side of the scheme adjacent to James Gibbs’ stone building, which in turn provide access to an open plan kitchen and lounge area, covering almost the entire footprint of the building. “The heart is the kitchen, and the kitchen table,” comments McVoy – the space benefits greatly from its double height. A separate counselling room is located on this floor, along with several seating areas and a secluded ‘pause area’ for users needing greater privacy.

A bamboo staircase runs around the periphery. The first floor accommodates further seating areas, a library, and two more separate counselling rooms, where patients can receive advice and consultation from specially-trained staff.


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