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'Given the rich history of Maggie’s Centres, the greatest challenge is finding your own way'

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AL_A director Maximiliano Arrocet on why designing the new Maggies’ Centre at Southampton took the practice back to its core values

How did this commission come about?
We’ve long been admirers of Maggie’s, their spirit and ambition, and we’ve followed their progress from the very start. So when we were approached, we were thrilled to accept the commission as it’s always been something we’ve wanted to do.

Have you been to see the other centres and if so what have you learned from your visits?
I’ve been to the Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners-designed West London Centre at Charing Cross Hospital along with the other AL_A directors, as well as the OMA-designed Centre at the Gartnavel General Hospital in Glasgow, the Fife Centre by Zaha Hadid, and the very first Maggie’s in Edinburgh by Richard Murphy. It was a great experience to learn first-hand the amazing work that Maggie’s staff do and how their care and attention to detail is reflected in the design of each Centre.

Which is your favourite and why?
The West London Centre is very good, with its vintage Rogers detailing that really brings it to life. Although by their practice’s standards, it’s modest in scale and budget, it’s an incredibly serene and uplifting building.

Are you going to do anything differently?
Every Maggie’s Centre is different and is testament to the ingenuity of their respective designers, while also succeeding in fulfilling the aspiration of providing a warm and non-institutional welcome. In Southampton, we are working with a very unprepossessing site in a sea of car parks. Therefore, we needed to create a different narrative and a different approach. So we are bringing a piece of the New Forest landscape to the hospital and making a building that disappears within it.

What are the biggest challenges of this job?
One of the greatest challenges is to find your own way of doing it given the rich history of Maggie’s.

Are you bringing anything from your previous schemes into this design?
We’re bringing our obsession with ceramics to the project, with four walls that form the skeleton of the centre being made from ceramic blades to root the building into the earth. The glazes we are using are being specially developed for Maggie’s with our collaborators Cumella near Barcelona.

We’re bringing our obsession with ceramics to the centre

Is there anything you’ve learned while designing this scheme that you may use in future projects?
Every project we do we learn new things which become part of our repertoire.

What, if anything, has surprised you on the project?
The most surprising thing is that this small, rather modest project embodies what it means to be an architect and goes straight to the heart of what the discipline can and should be about.

How would you like your scheme to be remembered?
I’d like it to be remembered as a building that raises the spirits and lifts the weight off the shoulders of all who visit and work there.

Can you sum up your design in one word?
The Spanish word ‘sereno’.


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