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Ab Rogers Design completes Maggie’s Centre at Royal Marsden Hospital

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The practice’s first completed whole building, Maggie’s at the Royal Marsden in south London is clad in bright red extruded terracotta tiles

The terracotta panels are derived from earthy clay. They were bent and extruded in four different shades of red from a deeper ‘carmine’ to a translucent ’coral’. Next to the main entrance, little drawings, or ‘tattoos’ as Ab Rogers calls them, are carved into the ceramic surface.

As with other Maggie’s centres, the scheme has been designed from the inside out, with the kitchen and courtyard at the centre and all surrounding spaces having views to the garden to encourage calm. 

Maggies shot 29 final large

Designed around a sunpath diagram, four glass-fronted volumes staggered in height are sited in a semi-circular formation so that each faces the sun at different times of the day. Clerestory windows create views to the garden and sky, while private counselling rooms are punctured with skylights.

Inside, the centre comprises a series of overlapping spaces of different heights, scales and character. The interior has been designed so that the neutral floors and walls are punctuated with moments of vivid colour. The kitchen counter and balustrade wrapping around the central space continue the red of the exterior inside.

Planes of flat colour are interspersed with different wood textures. A large carved walnut door marks the building’s main entrance, while every door handle has been individually carved into a different shape.

Designed by Dutch landscape architect, Piet Oudolf, the garden is divided into four interconnected zones. Plants are matched carefully to each area: some requiring full sun or shade, while the entrance path curves beneath large trees, remaining in shade throughout the day. There are 12,000 plants in the garden with 14 different grasses, six types of ferns and 50 perennials. High nectar plants were chosen to attract more biodiversity, with all the plants grown specially for the centre at Orchard Dene Nurseries in Oxfordshire over two years.

Separate from the main building and enclosing courtyard is the timber garden house sunk deep into the bank with an expansive angled window looking directly into the shrubbery. Described as a ‘Mary Poppins bag’ by Rogers, it is bigger than it looks and can be used for group activities. 

Maggies shot 26 final

Architect’s view

Since the first Maggie’s Centre opened in 1996, the principles Maggie Keswick Jencks outlined in the short text she wrote while in remission from her own illness, ‘A view from the front line’, have been proven and expanded. We began our design process by spending time at many of the existing centres. We talked at length to visitors and staff and summed up these insights in a diagram capturing the ideal way people might experience the centre.

We designed the centre’s four staggered red fanning volumes from the inside out. A Maggie’s Centre must fulfil many functions. To do its job, it must straddle the hospital and the home. It must offer information, workshops, therapy, community, solitude, solace and a cup of tea. And to do its job, it must do this in a way that is comforting and ultimately life-affirming. Our hope is that you can feel this just by being in the building.

Ab Rogers and Ernesto Bartolini, Ab Rogers Design

Maggies at the royal marsden by ab rogers design 6

Project data 

Start on site January 2018
Completion October 2019
Gross internal floor area 468m²
Gross (internal + external) floor area 2,660m²
Form of contract Construction management
Construction cost £4.2 million
Construction cost per m2 £7,500
Architect Ab Rogers Design
Client The Maggie Keswick Jencks Cancer Caring Centres Trust
Structural engineer Milk
M&E consultant BCA Consulting
Lighting Studio ZNA
QS Gardiner and Theobald
Landscape design Piet Oudolf
Civil engineer Wareham and Associates
Solar study consultant Max Fordham
Building control Butler and Young
Fire engineer Omega Fire
Planning consultant Iceni Projects
Transport consultant Gateway TSP
Energy consultant Elmhurst Energy
Lead contractor Sir Robert McAlpine Special Projects
Terracotta cladding Palagio Engineering
Joinery Raphael Contracting

Maggies at the royal marsden by ab rogers design 4

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Readers' comments (1)

  • "Construction cost per m2 £7,500" ??!!

    Maybe I'm just naive, but surely charities are charged with benefiting their charges with an eye to economy.
    This is an astonishingly expensive project that does little to allay the nagging feeling that the charity business is one of the more profitable ventures.

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