How Maggie’s built a design for life

Projected image of what Maggie's Lanarkshire will look like
Projected image of what Maggie's Lanarkshire will look like
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With two new Maggie’s Centres on the way for Scotland, Lyndsay Buckland considers how founding principles have shaped their success

DOTTED around the grounds of many of Scotland’s hospitals sit buildings so striking in appearance they can catch the eye of even the most distracted and troubled patient. These small but perfectly formed constructions are the work of some of the world’s leading architects including Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, coming together to help the pioneering cancer charity, Maggie’s.

But despite their very different designs, the aim of each building is the same – to make sure people do not lose the joy of living in the fear of dying.

This was the aim of Maggie’s founder and landscape architect Maggie Keswick Jencks, whose own experiences in gloomy hospital waiting-rooms as she battled breast cancer led her to yearn to create a more pleasant environment to help in patients’ recovery.

And while she did not live to see the opening of the first Maggie’s centre in Edinburgh 15 years ago, her idea, with the help of husband and architect Charles Jencks, has inspired others to create buildings so quirky and original that many say just looking at them makes them feel better.

With 15 centres now open or in development across the UK, the charity hopes that more such buildings can be created in the future. And today the charity also celebrates the official openng of its newest Maggie’s centre in Swansea.

Laura Lee, Maggie’s chief executive, said Maggie had a passionate interest in architecture and firmly believed that excellence in design could add considerably to the benefit of people visiting the centres.

“This belief has been carried through to Maggie’s architectural brief and now underpins our approach to centre design,” she said.

“We task our architects with creating inspirational buildings that are at the same time warm, calm and supportive. This is a demanding brief to which our architects put their whole creative talent.”

The Maggie’s centres in Scotland range from converted stable blocks and gatehouses to more futuristic designs featuring dramatic angular façades, romantic turrets and graceful curves.

Andrew Bateman, of Page\Park Architects – the only firm so far to design two Maggie’s centres – said they were “hugely proud” to be involved with the charity.

“The brief that Maggie’s issues is the same to all the architects and was evolved from Maggie herself – her experience of having to deal with cancer and the experience in hospitals, treatment rooms and waiting rooms,” he said.

“She was saying there was a need for a different kind of care to go alongside the clinical care that is done in hospitals.

“That sort of care needs a homely environment and somewhere where people can stop, take time, be themselves and also cry.”

Page\Park designed the Glasgow Gatehouse centre – a conversion of a listed gatehouse at the Western Infirmary – and the Highlands centre at Raigmore in Inverness, for which Bateman was project architect. He said the design aimed to create the homely environment desired by Maggie’s by stripping away anything institutional and clinical and helping make people feel relaxed.

“As you walk through the door you have two reactions. The first is to breathe out and feel I can be myself here,” he said. “But what has also evolved from the centres is an uplifting feeling as well, through the architecture, with creativity and innovation acting as part of therapy to lift a person’s spirits.”

Neil Gillespie, of architects Reiach and Hall, has designed the new centre to be built at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie, Lanarkshire. Work on the building is set to begin next April.

“Our approach was to create a very quiet building. A lot of the Maggie’s are quite extrovert, and Charles Jencks believes that the buildings should be aspirational and they should lift someone’s spirits,” he said.

“So our approach was to think about walled gardens and make the building part of a secretive garden space. We came up with the idea of a walled garden and the building nestles within that as a series of rooms and courtyards.”

Another centre in development is in Aberdeen, with designs set to be revealed this month. Along with the Lanarkshire centre, it will receive funding from the Elizabeth Montgomerie Foundation, set up by golfer Colin Montgomerie in memory of his mother who died from lung cancer.

As well as making for interesting buildings, experts believe good design has positive effects on people’s health. Health psychologist Cary Cooper said there was plenty of research which showed that environment and design were critical to patients’ well-being.

“The NHS would save an absolute fortune if it invested a bit up-front to get the design issues sorted in hospital waiting rooms, in out-patients, particularly in cancer treatment and mental health,” he said. “The environment you go into when you’re ill is critical to your recovery in my view, particularly with the high-stress illnesses such as cancer and mental illness.

“In these kind of cases the environment seems to me to be pretty fundamental.”

Those working in Maggie’s centres also believe that the design has been vital to how they are able to interact with patients and their families.

Ruth McCabe, head of Maggie’s Fife centre, said the architecture acted as a conversation starter for those nervous about being newcomers to the centre, particularly for men who often have more trouble opening up and talking. “That is particularly so here as we are a very unusual contemporary building,” she said. “People will come in and say it is very different inside.

“We are very angular and pointy in the way the exterior is designed, but inside it is open and soft and bright and white, with lots of glass and light.”

McCabe said research had shown that colour and spaces and how they were used could help people feel at ease. And she said that there was evidence now that hospitals were starting to take on board these messages in their own designs.

“We have got a new hospital wing being built here and they have given a lot of consideration to things like colour,” McCabe said.

“So even the more acute services are trying to emulate that kind of health environment and probably mirroring Maggie’s a bit.”


Maggie’s Cancer Centres are celebrating their 15th birthday. The first centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996 and there are now 15 beautifully designed centres either established or in development across the UK. From the Highlands to London, Maggie’s help thousands of people find clarity and calmness in the isolation of their cancer journey through a bespoke and specialised programme. Help celebrate their 15th year and support the care that helps thousands of Scots:

TEXT: Donate a one-off gift of £1.50 by texting MAGG15 to 70070

PHONE: 0300 123 1801 and quote Scotsman Christmas Appeal