Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Exclusive building study: Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

  • Comment

This cancer care centre – the largest Maggie’s yet – uses landscaping and greenery to help create a therapeutic sanctuary, says Laura Mark

PROJECT DATA • ARCHITECT’S VIEW • CLIENT’S VIEWENGINEER’S VIEW • PLANS • SECTIONS • DETAIL • SPECIFICATION 

When Norman Foster was announced as the architect of the North West’s first Maggie’s Centre there were a few raised eyebrows. The centres are conceived as homely, comforting spaces and Foster’s High-Tech commercial architecture is not the first you would associate with this. But since Foster grew up in Levenshulme, just five miles away from the Manchester centre, it seems appropriate that this is his first significant project in the city.

It is also no secret that the architect has had first-hand experience of cancer. His first wife, Wendy, died of the disease, while he himself was given just weeks to live after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. The memories of this have been channelled into the architecture.

‘The purpose of this building,’ says Foster, ‘is to provide a refuge where you are, hopefully, comforted and informed, particularly after your diagnosis. Before this you will have received the life-changing news in an institutional environment.’

Maggie’s Centres were borne out of this idea of providing an alternative system of care for cancer sufferers. Maggie Keswick Jencks’s mission was to create better environments for those who have discovered their life is to be cut short: places where they might find solace.

As her widower Charles Jencks writes in a description of the Dumfries hospital corridor where they were told the news: ‘There must be a better place in a hospital to deal with a death sentence, a new place in the NHS set apart to face last things, away from the happy-clappy world.’

I was recently confronted with this experience myself when my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer on Christmas Eve. Seated in squeaky plastic chairs in a drab, impersonal room, we were told the news, then sent on our way. There was nowhere similar to a Maggie’s Centre to go.

Maggie’s Manchester is just a few minutes walk from the unwelcoming, dark, narrow corridors of the ageing Christie hospital, yet it feels a million miles away. Sequestered in a leafy suburban street between a car park and the Wilson Mason-designed Cancer Research Centre, which opened last year, the 500m2 single-storey building with its 1,500m2 garden is the largest Maggie’s Centre yet. But, despite its size it was still important it had all the elements associated with a Maggie’s, and the brief to create a place of refuge remained the same for this as for all its centres.

The garden is broken up into small courtyards offering a private space of solace and refuge

The sunny site seems the perfect place for a centre largely focused around a garden. The exterior spaces are given the same focus and status as the interior. The gardens offer a place of therapy outside the formal confines of a counselling or treatment room. At the eastern side adjoining the car park the garden is broken up into small courtyards, offering private spaces leading from each of the centre’s counselling rooms. To the west, the garden is more open and offers a threshold between the street and the centre.

A greenhouse – a first for a Maggie’s Centre – sits proud of the south elevation, its faceted glass facade echoing the building’s triangular rooflights. A moveable table slides out of the space on rails ensuring it can be used all year round for activities such as gardening classes and workshops.

‘The greenhouse provides a garden retreat,’ says Foster, ‘a space for people to gather, to work with their hands and enjoy the therapeutic qualities of nature and the outdoors.’

When I visit the centre, project architect Darron Haylock tells me its design is about creating a distraction for patients and their families, facilitated by spaces such as the greenhouse and productive garden. But Foster offers an alternative view. ‘It is for me less about distraction and more about a setting that might be helpful and comforting in a situation where you have heard life-threatening news,’ he says.

But the experience of hearing my grandfather’s diagnosis leads me to believe the concept of a diversion should not be so easily dismissed. My grandfather died six weeks after his initial diagnosis and during this time distraction was important for my family. Before visiting time we would distract my grandmother with trips to shopping centres, walks in the park, and countless cups of tea and coffee. Then when we reached the hospital we would begin distracting my grandfather with jokes, memories, music and crossword puzzles.

Certainly one of the purposes of Maggie’s Centres, aided by their architecture, is to offer a respite from the nagging worries that cancer brings, and this building offers distraction through more subtle means. Here the focus can be on gardening, discussions around a kitchen table, or yoga, cooking or reading: all in a space where you don’t have to put on a brave face.

A timber roof is in true Foster style – highly engineered and lightweight

As with all Maggie’s Centres, the kitchen table is a salient feature of the design, occupying one of the first spaces seen from the front door. The spaces all open out on to a veranda, which acts as a threshold between the garden and the building. This is sheltered by a timber roof, which extends outwards around the building in a deep overhang to provide protection from Manchester’s not infrequent rain. It is done in true Foster style, highly engineered and lightweight, appearing to soar above the building on wings resembling those of an aircraft.

It will take a while before the greenery of the site develops enough to thoroughly transport visitors out of the surrounding housing and car parks to a more tranquil place. And the building doesn’t have the womb-like qualities of Garbers & James’s interpretation of Kisho Kurokawa’s sweeping curves at the Swansea Maggie’s, nor yet the homely feel of Richard Murphy’s Edinburgh centre. But this one, which is so obviously a Foster building, is a good Maggie’s Centre. Its homeliness will come with use, and its success from the spaces created by its rectilinear pavilion-like form within the man-made landscape. As Jencks’s appropriately titled book, The Architecture of Hope, puts it, these centres offer just that: hope – and a place to forget for a while and feel normal.

Plan

Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners

Section

Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners

Detail

Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners

Source: Nigel Young

The node that links the beam and column trusses is a key connection in the entire structural system. It is at this node that the vertical loads from the roof – its self-weight and the snow loads – are transferred to the columns and subsequently down to the ground. Simultaneously, the node acts as a fixed portal frame haunch to provide the rigidity required to resist the horizontal wind forces acting across the structure, and to bring these forces down to ground as well. The forces at this critical connection resolve themselves into a set of pure axial stresses around the triangle, which provides the required rigidity and strength through the efficiency of its form.

Roger Ridsdill Smith, design director – engineering, Foster + Partners

Architect’s view

The central idea behind the new Maggie’s Centre in Manchester was to create a welcoming space for cancer patients that is homely, uplifting and provides a place of refuge and diversion for them.The building approach was essential in setting the tone for the rest of the experience; the centre is a short walk away from the main hospital, with a discreet sense of arrival that allows the patients to come and go as they please.

Arranged over a single storey, the building reflects the residential scale of the surrounding streets, with the roof rising in the centre to create a mezzanine level. Naturally illuminated by triangular roof lights, the building is supported by lightweight timber lattice beams. These beams act as natural partitions between different internal areas, visually dissolving the architecture into the surrounding gardens. Access and circulation throughout the building is intuitive, with no formal reception at the entrance. Institutional references, such as corridors and hospital signs, have been avoided.

The design uses Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL), which gives the structure greater strength, and there is no visible fixing between two timber pieces. Throughout the centre, there is a focus on natural light, greenery and garden views, with a warm material palette. The rectilinear plan is punctuated by landscaped courtyards, and the entire western elevation extends into a wide veranda, sheltered from the rain by the deep overhang of the roof – a feature unique to this particular Maggie’s Centre.

At the heart of the building is the kitchen, which is centred on a large, communal table. The south end of the building extends to embrace a greenhouse, which provides a garden retreat, a space to grow flowers and other produce that can be used at the centre, giving the patients a sense of purpose at a time when they may feel at their most vulnerable.

A gift from the practice to Maggie’s, the project brings together fundamental design philosophies from the early days of the practice: prefabrication, dry construction, and the benefits of speed and quality that these processes offer. The result is a lightweight structure and therapeutic space that is a celebration of light and nature.

Darron Haylock, partner, Foster + Partners

Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners

Source: Nigel Young

Client’s view

We were delighted when Norman Foster said that he and his practice, Foster + Partners, would be able to design our newest centre in the grounds of the Christie Hospital in Manchester. From the outset he and his team were absolutely committed to creating this wonderful building. They worked closely with the Christie in finding the best site for us and, as the designs moved towards realisation, the team work very closely with Sir Robert McAlpine, our construction manager.

The design development that went into the creation of the beautiful structure with timber specialist Blumer-Lehmann was quite incredible. This light and airy pavilion building will be nothing if not welcoming. Generous canopies provide shelter while allowing our visitors to enjoy fresh air and experience Dan Pearson’s beautiful garden. The interior and exterior come together in a glass house in which numerous scented plants surround a central table at which our centre users can gather to experience and enjoy this natural environment. Natural light pervades the whole building and warms the interior palette of natural wood, stone floors and woven rugs.

Foster + Partners has created for us a truly remarkable building that perfectly complements our many programmes of support for all those who are affected by cancer.

Chris Watson, property director, Maggie’s

Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners

Source: Nigel Young

Engineer’s view

Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners

The building is laid out to provide accessible open spaces along either side of a central zone, which contains administrative and service spaces. This spatial arrangement naturally led to a structural system where the primary support springs from a central spine, with a cantilevered roof over the spaces on either side. Further support is provided by slender columns just beyond each facade, making the entire structural system more efficient. These elements significantly reduce the bending moment in the overhead span, and remove the need for a deflection head at the top of the glass in the rooflights.

Timber was chosen as the primary building material for its aesthetic and structural properties, as well as cost and carbon efficiency. The timber beams are designed as trusses, which reflect the magnitude and orientation of the loads acting on them – any portion that is superfluous to the structural support has been removed. An analysis of the stresses caused by wind load (sideways) and snow and dead load (vertically) indicated where the timber could be optimised. The beams thus have a top and bottom flange, and diagonals through the web, which densify as the shear force increases along the section. The trusses taper as the bending forces reduce, towards to the cantilever tip, through the column to the pin connection at the ground, and at the central node above the spine.

The diagonal arrangement of the trusses in plan across the central spine enables the structure to provide stability to the roof without the need for any additional bracing elements or stiffeners. The roof can act as a single diaphragm, transferring the wind loads into the trusses, which provide rigidity as a portal frame across the building. Along the length of the building, the diagonal trusses deliver load into the spine. In this way, the building’s structure odirectly reflects the forces it resists

Roger Ridsdill Smith, design director – engineering, Foster + Partners

Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners

Source: Nigel Young

Specification

Cladding
Timber: Siberian Larch Sawfalling (I-IV) bevel cladding by Silva Timber

Paint finish: Sansin SDF Saturated Tone, white 

External floor
Staffordshire Blue Plain Clay Pavers by Ketley Brick Co  

Internal Floor
Staffordshire Blue Brindle Quarry Tiles by Ketley Brick Co  

Carpet
Tisca Colorrips 410 by Tisca Tiara 

Windows
Vertical glazing: Kawneer AA100 curtain walling system

Rooflights: AA100 SSG structural silicone glazed

Glasshouse: bespoke clamped glass retention system supported by the glulam timber structure

All by Bennett Architectural Aluminum 

Roof
Double locking standing seam roofing in Nordic Bronze by Aurubis 

Plasterboard walls
Gyproc by British Gypsum

Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners

Source: Nigel Young

Project data

Start on site 2014
Completion 2016 
Gross internal floor area 500m² 
Architect Foster + Partners 
Client Maggie’s 
Structural engineer Foster + Partners 
MEP consultant Foster + Partners 
QS Gardiner & Theobald 
Landscape consultant Dan Pearson Studio 
Lighting consultant Cundall 
Fire engineer Foster + Partners 
Planning advisor IBI Taylor Young 
Project manager Foster + Partners 
CDM coordinator CDM Scotland 
Approved building inspector AIS 
Main contractor Sir Robert McAlpine 
CAD software used Bentley Microstation 

Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners

Source: Nigel Young

Environmental data

Floor area with daylight factor >2% 67%
Floor area with daylight factor >5% 20% 
On-site energy generation none 
Overall area-weighted u-value 0.35W/m².K

Maggie's Manchester by Foster + Partners

Maggie’s Manchester by Foster + Partners

Source: Nigel Young

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

AJ Jobs