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Maggie’s Leeds Centre / Heatherwick Studio

Architect: Heatherwick Studio
Place: Harehills, UK
Year: 2020
Photographer: Hufton+Crow
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The new Meggie’s Leeds, the 26th centre in the UK to be part of the Meggie’s Centre, one of the UK’s leading cancer support charities, has been designed as a huge roof garden by British studio Heatherwick. Based on the idea that a great project can help people get better, the new centre – entirely built with natural and sustainable materials and set in a garden full of various species of plants, designed by landscape architects Balston Agius – aims to be a place that is different from aseptic treatment centres, a place that can transmit hope and perseverance to all the guests during their difficult and courageous battle.

Maggie’s Centre is a charity that provides free practical and emotional support for people with cancer. The 462 sq metre centre, located within the campus of St. James’s University Hospital in Leeds, is the charity’s 26th centre in the UK and the first completed healthcare project designed by British architectural firm Heatherwick, founded by Thomas Heatherwick.

Maggie’s Leeds is designed as a group of three large-scale planters, built on a sloped site, that each encloses a counselling room. These surround the ‘heart’ of the centre – the kitchen – as well as more social spaces for group activities including a library and exercise room.

Drawing upon the philosophy of Maggie’s and the belief that great design can help people feel better, Maggie’s Leeds uses several ‘healthy’ materials and energy-saving techniques. The building’s structure is built from a prefabricated and sustainably-sourced spruce timber system. Porous materials such as lime plaster help to maintain the internal humidity of the naturally- ventilated building, which has been achieved through careful consideration of the building’s form and orientation.

The rooftop garden, designed by award-winning landscape designers Balston Agius, is inspired by Yorkshire woodlands and features native English species of plants, alongside areas of evergreen to provide warmth in the winter months. Inspired by Maggie Keswick Jencks’ love of gardening, visitors are encouraged to participate in the care of the 23,000 bulbs and 17,000 plants on site.

The interior of the centre explores everything that is often missed in healing environments: natural and tactile materials, soft lighting, and a variety of spaces designed to encourage social opportunities as well as quiet contemplation. Window sills and shelves are intended for visitors to fill with their own objects to create a sense of home. The studio has also designed two tables, inspired by the building’s timber fins and built from cork and engineered beech timber, which reside in the heart of the centre.

The architect Thomas Heatherwick – Heatherwick Studio

Heatherwick Studio’s motivation is to design soulful and interesting places which embrace and celebrate the complexities of the real world. It’s been a tremendous experience and honour to design the Maggie’s centre in Leeds. Our aim was to build a home for people affected by cancer that would be soulful and welcoming, unlike other typical clinical environments. By only using natural, sustainable materials and immersing the bwlding in thousands of plants, there was a chance for us to make an extraordinary environment capable of inspiring visitors with hope and perseverance during their difficult health journeys. Maggie’s Leeds has been a very special project for me and my team because we are convinced that there are kinder, more empathic ways to design places that can have powerful impacts on the way that we feel. This is particularly important in the design of healthcare environments, but is so frequently overlooked.

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