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Maggie’s apologises for ‘exploitative’ ideas contest

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Maggie’s has apologised after architects took to Twitter to criticise an ideas competition for a new cancer care centre featuring a free lunch as its top prize

Last week Piers Taylor was among those who questioned whether having large numbers of practices provide ideas, images and plans for the chance of winning a lunch was ‘devaluing what architects do’.

In an open letter to the organisers (see below), he said: ‘While I believe that architectural competitions are in general exploitative and a poor way to commission new architecture, I feel that this takes this exploitation to a new level by not only not intending to pay for or build the “winning” scheme but merely offering lunch for the winners.

‘Is this how little you value architecture? As a previously visionary client, we believe it is your responsibility to trailblaze and set the standard for how architects should be engaged.’

Jeremy Till, head of Central St Martins and pro-vice chancellor of the University of the Arts agreed, describing the contest as ‘exploitation of intellectual, professional and human capital,’ and called on the organisers to ‘desist’.

Meanwhile Cameron Sinclair – who co-founded Architecture for Humanity and is now Airbnb’s head of social innovation – suggested the organisers should have charged a $50 entry fee, ‘[awarded] money to winning designs and [donated the] rest to a cancer charity.’

In response, a spokesperson for Maggies said: ‘We absolutely understand how disheartening some competitions can be for architects and apologise if this has been taken the wrong way.

We apologise if this has been taken the wrong way

’This competition was meant as a creative and fun way for Newcastle students to learn more about Maggie’s, led by NBS. The addition of the ‘professional category’ was meant to broaden the opportunity out to anyone that wanted to be involved but we never intended it to be seen as a serious competition, as it was always for a hypothetical centre.’

Elizabeth Kavanagh, also defended the competition.

The Make Maggie’s Yours competition, which has been organised by the NBS (National Building Specification), seeks ‘visionary’ proposals for a new hypothetical 280m² Maggie’s Centre that provides a feeling of welcome and safety. The brief does not focus on any specific site.

It aims to raise awareness of the charity, which was inspired by the ideas of Maggie Keswick Jencks to create cancer care centres in hospitals across the UK.

Piers Taylor's letter

Piers Taylor’s letter

Piers Taylor’s letter

The NBS said the contest’s purpose was to ‘raise awareness of this vital cancer charity and consider the effect building design can have on community wellbeing.

‘It is described as “a design competition for all” and for this reason, we are accepting entries from local students and families as well as Maggie’s volunteers or users of the service. There is a separate category in case any professionals choose to take part.’

The statement continued: ‘We have supported Maggie’s Newcastle through a number of initiatives this year, including staff social events, acting as a host venue for the Culture Crawl and through digital donation stations placed in our Future Buildings exhibition during the Great Exhibition of the North. Make Maggies Yours is another way to continue this partnership with a focus on great architecture and ideas.’

Competition judges include Cullinan Studio founder Ted Cullinan who completed a Maggie’s Centre in Newcastle (pictured) five years ago.

More than 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK every year. Maggie’s was founded in 1995, following the death of Keswick Jencks from cancer. The first centre was designed by Richard Murphy Architects and opened in Edinburgh in 1996.

The charity has since completed 14 further cancer care centres in the UK and overseas by architects including OMA, Rogers Stirk Harbour, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, CZWG and Foster + Partners. Cullinan Studio completed Maggie’s 12th project in Newcastle in 2013.

The latest contest is divided into student and professional categories and aims to generate new ideas and boost awareness of the charity. Proposals should feature a kitchen at the centre’s heart, an impressive garden and a clearly identifiable entrance. Multipurpose spaces and staff offices are also required.

Submissions should include a 100-word design statement, two conceptual images, two interior images, a plan drawing, and an optional physical model. Shortlisted teams will be invited to pitch their ideas to the judging panel and the overall winners will be invited for a special tour and lunch at Maggie’s Newcastle.

The deadline for applications is 5pm, 30 November.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Well said Piers

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  • You have said enough Piers. Stick to your misguided Brexit petitions?

    No organisation is perfect, but Maggies are amazing. As a building designer I loved ideas competitions, as a change from site meetings and door schedules. Now as a cancer patient, it is a real treat to drop into the Stirk Harbour Maggies at Charing Cross Hospital for lunch. Their staff and accountants have provided good cheer, and helped me through the benefits finance maze.

    It might be nice to visit a few more? Perhaps starting with Newcastle. It would be interesting to be on the judging panel?!?

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  • A great cause but a badly handled brief.

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