One of the lessons from this project is that small, difficult sites can often generate extraordinarily intelligent design solutions. One of the most remarkable achievements of Maggie’s London is the successful design of a quiet – intentionally domestic – haven of security and composure in a cramped area, squeezed between a large institutional hospital and a major London traffic thoroughfare. The building also adds a colourful and calming element to what was once an institutional car park.
The building has a unique style, with its bright red rendered walls and intriguing courtyard and balcony elements. This gives the visitor a sense of a very special place, a privileged place, in an otherwise overwhelmingly clinical and institutional campus. The domestic-size entrance door, unfussy but colourful furnishings and warm lighting within, invite the visitor into a special world. This is exactly what those suffering from life-terminating illnesses say they need.
The incorporation of art from Charing Cross Hospital’s significant art collection could add to the special non-institutional feel of the building.
Significantly there are no signs anywhere within the building, which cleverly signals and guides the first-time visitor through the use of sight-lines and design cues. This is in complete contrast to most clinical buildings which suffer a surfeit of signage, reducing the status and dignity of the patient.
A downside of the open plan arrangement of communal areas is the fact that noise travels fast throughout the centre. As a result it is more difficult to separate quiet from noisy activities.
Good sustainability principles were embedded in the project from the beginning, including:
- the use of timber from renewable sources
- a strong emphasis on the natural circulation of light and air
- highly effective insulation
- the recycling of rainwater
- making the building and its lighting, heating and plumbing systems easy to operate by staff and volunteers.
The design of the landscape in which the building is set creates a mood of privacy and calmness. More than 80 trees wrap around the centre, filtering and reducing noise levels and pollution levels.
The building also operates as a ‘special place’ at night. Lit from within and without (a solar clock is used to regulate external lighting), the bright colours of the red rendered walls, the floating roof, and the rustling birch trees combine together to produce a visual delight. The building lifts the spirits not only of its users and staff, but of all those using the main hospital complex as well as passers-by.
A unique project
Maggie’s London is a unique case. The commissioners were experienced and delivered a simple brief and the designers were willing to work for no fee. The real challenge comes in seeing how the special qualities and imagination seen at Maggie’s London can be transferred to the design of other health buildings.