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RIBA Stirling Prize 2015 finalist: Maggie's Lanarkshire by Reiach and Hall

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Reiach and Hall’s Maggie’s Lanarkshire is a highly crafted artwork, says Jay Merrick

Photography by David Grandorge and Philip Vile

SUSTAINABILITY APPRAISAL • PROJECT DATA • ARCHITECT’S VIEW • DETAIL • MATERIALS BOARD

Maggie’s Lanarkshire, dedicated as the Elizabeth Montgomerie Building, is a finely wrought house-and-garden tableau whose architecture has a spare Modernist-cum-Gaelic poetic quality; the cadences of threshold, space and atmosphere are rather beautiful. This is a setting for activity or repose whose qualities of engagement are the most engrossing of the five Maggie’s cancer care centres I’ve visited.

The full resonance of these qualities is not entirely obvious as you approach the building from the car park above it at Airdrie’s Monklands Hospital, which contains the oncology centre for districts east of Glasgow. The low rectilinear form seems to signal a pure mid-20th century Modernism redux – Farnsworth, Case Study and a polite tap on the shoulder from Jørn Utzon’s Courtyard Houses.

The scheme is a microcosmic walled estate

But there is nothing preciously referential about the architecture. Neil Gillespie describes the design as ‘simply a tale of two enclosed gardens’. This, and a reference to the ‘bare architecture armature’, seems dutifully terse. Contextually, the scheme is a microcosmic walled estate, a wee metaphor for the Airdrie House estate on whose ghostland the Maggie’s and the hospital stand.  

Gillespie, and project architect Laura Kinnaird, have been deeply concerned not simply with refined architectural enclosures, but with the psychological effects of light, structure and art. There are direct formal correlations to artworks in the building by Alan Johnston and Steven Aalders, for example; the perforations in the brick garden walls, and their linen-rubbed pointing, is likened via a remark by Tom de Paor, to the bricks of Sigurd Lewerentz’s Björkhagen church.

You enter a small, brick-walled, brick-surfaced courtyard at the top of the sloped site; above you, in two retained mature lime trees, starlings keen their deliriums; on your left, water trickles through a bone-white concrete rill inspired by the poetry of Thomas A Clark. On it are carved the words allt beag – Gaelic for little burn. Let there be a life refreshed, or cleansed, or reset in some other way.

The materials palette is simple

You pass through the glazed entrance facade – very slim Italian framing sections, reflections on the glass, abstracted glints of light and lines of form inside. Inside, your gaze locks on to the long axis, emphasised by an enfilade of seven thin, white-painted steel columns (disguised birch saplings, no doubt) running more or less centrally down the plan. The perspective leads the eye to a perfectly framed portrait view of the garden. The materials palette is simple: blonde birch ply, white-painted pine, limed oak.

Their message: you’re not here simply to feel comforted, or well advised, or massaged, or to make light of radiotherapy over tea and a plate of Tunnock’s Caramel Logs; the architecture imparts a sense of continuity that begins with the trickling rill in the entrance courtyard, and ends – compositionally and emotionally – with still water in a narrow rectangular, white concrete lochan ban, or small white loch, under the trees at the bottom of the charmingly planted garden.

The kitchen is more or less central; the consulting rooms, lavatories and main living room are on the long sides of the plan; and there’s a second sitting room directly overlooking the stepped terrace and garden. The light and shadow on the birch-ply walls, bookcase surfaces and wooden ceiling grid has the same pastel-soft quality as the gapped Petersen bricks of the garden walls. The highly crafted quality of the construction, by John Dennis, is superb.  

The play of light inside is modulated by two small internally glazed gardens sunk into the long edges of the plan, and particularly by square metal light-catchers projecting down from the ceiling, above two mini al fresco courtyards – square, centrally aligned and rather like glazed vertical vitrines.

The highly polished, gold-effect steel burnishes the light; patterns of triangular cut-outs in the metal produce exquisitely abstracted reflections of the trees and sky, drawing a gentle, glowing energy into the heart of the building. It’s a brilliant contrivance, an artwork that epitomises the grace of this life-catching architecture.

Jay Merrick is the architecture critic of The Independent

Sustainability appraisal 

Annual CO² emissions 22.83kg/m²

‘Keep it simple,’ was the overriding sustainability brief at Maggie’s Lanarkshire. With the limited operating resources of a small charity, simplicity of operation and maintenance were key drivers in the design. 

The linear building is orientated to make the most of existing trees on the hospital grounds by enclosing two garden courtyards at either end of the building. Excellent daylight is provided through the two glazed end walls and complemented by gold-coloured lightcatchers in the ceiling. Ventilation is naturally controlled by opening sliding doors or windows.

External fabric U-values comply with Building Regulations, while an airtightness of less than 4m3/hr/m2 at 50Pa exceeds them. Two air-source heat pumps provide low-pressure water for underfloor heating and meet the building’s limited hot water demand.

The primary material is brick, chosen for durability. All the timber – Finnish birch for joinery, limed oak floors and white-stained pine ceilings – is FSC or PEFC-certified.

Hattie Hartman, sustainability editor

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Reiach_and_Hall_Maggies_David_Grandorge__7_

Project data

Construction cost £1.8 million
Approx. gross external project area 900m²
Construction cost per m2 (inc gardens) £2,000
Start on site April 2013
Completion April 2014
Form of contract Traditional – SBC / Q Standard Building Contract with quantities
Client Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres
Structural engineer SKM (now Jacobs)
M&E consultant KJ Tait Engineers
QS CBA
CDM co-ordinator Alexander Project Management
Main contractor John Dennis and Company (Scotland)

Reiach_and_Hall_Maggies_David_Grandorge__11_

Reiach_and_Hall_Maggies_David_Grandorge__11_

Architect’s view

Our intention was to create a still and dignified place where people under huge stress could experience a level and type of support that primary healthcare just cannot provide in an environment that is equally open and sympathetic. We imagined a beautiful, perforated brick perimeter wall that bound together a series of enclosed gardens, courts and rooms. The completed project simply refined and developed that original plan.

We imagined a beautiful, perforated brick perimeter wall

The site was part of a car park to the large district hospital that had over many years eroded a tree belt of mature limes. The new building, with its walls and gardens, occupies this gap, bringing a sense of boundary and place to the northern edge of the hospital.

The relationship with our client, primarily Laura Lee, Marcia Blakenham and Charles Jencks, was very strong and was based on an honest discussion and a generous exchange of ideas. The relationship was forged simply through decent people listening to one another.

The most challenging aspect of the project was not ours, but Maggie’s. Maggie’s had to raise the significant funds required to build and operate the centre with the help of the Elizabeth Montgomerie Foundation and Walk the Walk, as well as countless private individuals who gave of their time and money.

The scheme was ambitious in terms of its quality and atmosphere

What we learned from this project is how important it is to have good people to work alongside: from our client group to our project director Carol MacBain and project architect Laura Kinnaird, through to design team colleagues at CBA Chartered Quantity Surveyors, Rankin Fraser Landscape Architecture, KJ Tait Engineers, SKM, Speirs + Major and contractor John Dennis and Company – all were totally committed to creating something that, although modest in scale, was ambitious in terms of its quality and atmosphere.

In terms of where this building sits in the evolution of our practice, in many ways there are echoes of an earlier, maybe more enlightened, time. We worked directly and intimately with a small client group on an idea, an idea that was about making a quiet sequence of spaces for people to use.

Neil Gillespie, director, Reiach and Hall

Reiach_and_Hall_Maggies_Philip_Vile

Reiach_and_Hall_Maggies_Philip_Vile

Detail

Maggie_s_Detail_1

Maggie_s_Detail_1

The building’s four small courtyards not only bring light and air deep into the plan, they open up diagonal views through the building, introducing spatial ambiguity and complexity to an otherwise rational plan.

Two of the courtyards are hard landscaped and two are soft landscaped. The two main courtyards are aligned with the centre of the plan and incorporate sliding doors on east and west facades, allowing activities to spill out of the main public areas.

To bring daylight into the main courtyards, we effectively created an abstract ‘tree’. A highly polished cube sits off the building and drops below its timber and steel construction. The lightcatchers are supported by polished stainless steel-clad steel brackets, bathing the courtyards in a warm glow.

The lightcatchers are made from 2mm gold-dyed polished stainless steel, sheet-bonded to 8mm anodised aluminium sheet. A perforated pattern of triangles picks up the rhythms of the brick wall perforations and, in direct light, they throw patterns across the limed oak flooring.

Laura Kinnaird, associate, Reiach and Hall

Materials board

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060_R_H_4_MATERIALS_EM_AJW_151009_cropped_2

  1. Light blonde Petersen Tegl bricks for garden wall
  2. Vande Moortel Septima A unsanded clay pavers for external paths
  3. White acid-etched precast concrete garden wall copes and terraces, Creagh Concrete
  4. White class 3 mortar, CPI Euromix Mortars
  5. Perforated metal lightcatchers, gold-coloured finish, Marzorati Ronchetti
  6. Maggie’s signature logo, letters water-jet cut from 40mm-thick slab of lava stone and glazed bottle green, Pyrolave
  7. Rustic, white-toned oak floor installed throughout centre, Kahrs
  8. Home Design 100 x 100mm ceramic matt floor and wall tiles for WC areas
  9. Taro curtains, Zimmer + Rohde
  10. Designers Guild and Bute fabrics used for soft furnishings
  11. Birch-faced ply internal partitions and storage walls bespoke made by the main contractor, John Dennis
  12. Curtain screen around cloak areas made from Nobi by Zimmer + Rohde
  13. Linen plain and sheer Cellini curtains for courtyard, Romo
  14. Mirror-polished stainless steel signage

AJ Buildings Library

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Reiach_and_Hall_Maggies_David_Grandorge__15_

See photographs and drawings of Maggie’s Lanarkshire in the AJ Buildings Library

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