A design for life after cancer?

By Tony Garner

Construction is under way on the latest architecturally unique Maggie’s Cancer Centre  next to Gartnavel hospital in Glasgow.  The charity, which places built environment at the heart of its cancer support philosophy, commissioned an internationally renowned Dutch architect for the Gartnavel design.

The plans for the centre (credit: OMA)

The plans drawn up by Rem Koolhaus feature a ring of interlocking L-shaped rooms looking in on a floral garden and surrounded on the outside by an expansive courtyard.  Tricia Crosbie, Maggie’s Media Co-ordinator, said “Architecture plays the important role at Maggie’s of evoking curiosity, drawing visitors inside, and then helping them feel relaxed and at home.”

Gartnavel, due for completion next April, will become the sixth Maggie’s Centre in Scotland.  The charity was founded by pioneering architect Charles Jencks and his wife Maggie Keswick, who died from breast cancer in 1995.  Jencks has since said that the airless, artificially lit environment where his wife was treated in Edinburgh’s Western General hospital spurred them to start the project, which has become one of the UK’s best-known charities only fifteen years after its establishment.  The Gartnavel centre was funded mainly from money raised in the popular Moonwalk events, which see tens of thousands of women donning underwear for mass walks between dusk and dawn.

SNP Deputy-First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who was at the ceremony to mark the cutting of the first piece of turf, said “Cancer is a top priority for the Scottish Government and Maggie’s is an important partner for us.”

But Scottish Labour Shadow Health Secretary Jackie Baillie raised concern that the SNP are not doing enough to protect cancer-sufferers, with £33.9 million to be cut from next year’s health budget.  “I believe that the Scottish Government should have moved much more quickly to phase out charges for patients suffering from this debilitating illness,” Bailey said.

The Maggie’s philosophy that built environment can play a crucial role in overcoming cancer has been questioned in the past.  There is no actual treatment available in the centres, which are usually located next to large hospitals such as the one at Gartnavel.

However expert medical opinion recently came out in favour of the projects.  Plans for yet another Maggie’s in Aberdeen were backed by the Medical Director of NHS Grampian, Roelf Dijkhuizen, who said they provided essential psychological support that the NHS was unable to give due to budget constraints.