The Story of Maggie's Centres: How 17 Architects Came to Tackle Cancer Care
Maggie's Centres are the legacy of Margaret Keswick Jencks, a terminally ill woman who had the notion that cancer treatment environments and their results could be drastically improved through good design. Her vision was realized and continues to be realized today by numerous architects, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Snøhetta - just to name a few. Originally appearing in Metropolis Magazine as “Living with Cancer,” this article by Samuel Medina features images of Maggie's Centres around the world, taking a closer look at the organization's roots and its continued success through the aid of architects.
It was May 1993, and writer and designer Margaret Keswick Jencks sat in a windowless corridor of a small Scottish hospital, dreading what would come next. The prognosis was bad—her cancer had returned—but the waiting, and the waiting room, were draining. Over the next two years until her death, she returned several times for chemo drips. In such neglected, thoughtless spaces, she wrote, patients like herself were left to “wilt” under the desiccating glare of fluorescent lights.
Wouldn’t it be better to have a private, light-filled space in which to await the results of the next bout of tests, or from which to contemplate, in silence, the findings? If architecture could demoralize patients—could “contribute to extreme and mental enervation,” as Keswick Jencks observed—could it not also prove restorative?
This is the central idea behind the experiment Keswick Jencks, or “Maggie,” started with her husband, architectural historian and theorist Charles Jencks, more than two decades ago. Their mission—to provide free, global care for cancer patients through great architecture—has since expanded to encompass 17 building projects ("Maggie's Centres"), many of them by celebrated architects like Richard Rogers and Rem Koolhaas.
A handful of these outposts, which are sprinkled all over the world from Edinburgh to Hong Kong, are featured in a retrospective exhibition at the New York School of Interior Design Gallery that is on display through April 25.
It is remarkable how beautiful and different the results have been. “We have not had a bad building yet,” says Charles Jencks. Their success, he adds, can be attributed to the “architectural placebo effect”—a building, while not wholly capable of curing illness, can act as “a secondary therapy, a feedback therapy.”
Each of the centers incorporates an open kitchenette where patients can gather for a cup of tea, airy sitting rooms with access to gardens and other landscape features, and bountiful views. There are also private rooms for one-on-one consultations; here, in well-lit, humanizing spaces, caregivers can advise patients on securing health-care loans and even dietary planning.
Despite these comforts, Jencks insists that the architecture is “risk taking” because it engages with a very real existential crisis. “To live is a great risk. Cancer patients go through this cycle of desperate fear, of deciding to die,” he says. “But those like Maggie risked to live. That’s the architecture in a way and what architects need to get into their building. And I think they have.”
Cite: Samuel Medina. "The Story of Maggie's Centres: How 17 Architects Came to Tackle Cancer Care" 27 Apr 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/498519/the-story-of-maggie-s-centres-how-17-architects-came-to-tackle-cancer-care/> ISSN 0719-8884