Architecture of Healing

Ab Rogers

April, 2021

The latest Maggie’s center at The Royal Marsden hospital by Ab Rogers Design valiantly reflects the belief of founders Maggie and Charles Jencks in the power of the environment to heal. As the late Charles Jencks said, Maggie’s centres are built from the ‘Architecture of hope’. Articulating this, ARD’s building has been designed from inside to out, conceived as a place where design acts as the third carer. By giving visitors spaces where they can hide in peace or laugh with a group, bathing them in light and engaging them with warm colours and rich textures, the building supports them to feel well. Here Ab Rogers reflects on the 12 principles that inform his life-affirming design.

Photograph by John Short

01. Red

Red is the most powerful of colours, known in chromotherapy for stimulating the sensory nerves; we harnessed its energy and strength to make Maggie’s a beacon of hope, using a family of reds to celebrate the building’s functions and set it apart from the yellow and green hues of the garden.

Photograph by John Short

02. Wood

Smooth, warm, hand-carved walnut door handles by Ray Griffiths become strange, sculpture-like objects that form a relationship with the hand, triggering the senses and the memory while offering a unique and unexpected counterpoint to the harsh and institutional materials of the hospital.

Photograph by John Short

03. Terracotta

Maggie’s is clothed in terracotta, folded within extruded tiles that encase its interior. The clay comes from just outside Florence, its factory is built directly on the quarry, and it is taken straight from the earth to be extruded, glazed, folded and frozen in the kiln.

Photograph by John Short

04. Perennial

Piet Oudolf’s extraordinary perennial garden is constantly changing, and the poetic nature of its metamorphosis – flowers opening and closing, colours fading and brightening, old foliage falling away as new growth comes through – means there is always something different to see. Its four interconnected zones create a protective oasis for the centre to nestle within.

Photograph by Ab Rogers Design

05. Sun

Designed around a sun path, the building is formed by a series of cascading columns that allow sunlight to penetrate throughout the day, capturing light and shadow as it falls, transforming the space and displaying its own circadian rhythms.

Photograph by John Short

06. Porous

For it to function as an environment for respite and relaxed social engagement, visitors need to see a variety of ways in and out, to help them to feel unfettered and free. The building is designed to be highly porous, allowing flow of movement and light through a multitude of different apertures.

Photograph by John Short. Sofa upholstered in Kvadrat/Raf Simons Vidar 4 622, Arper Arcos Armchairs covered in Kvadrat Remix 3 

07. Tactile

A space designed to nurture and care must engage with the power of touch. Whether it’s the softness and legibility of woven textiles in the curtains and upholstery that colour and cushion the architecture, absorbing light and sound, or the warmth of wood and the ice cream smoothness of polished plaster; all these elements reach out and wrap around the user, lifting their spirits and encouraging them to feel.

Photograph by John Short

08. Emotional

The washroom is designed to be an emotional haven, a refuge where every element has been chosen to comfort and care for you when you need to hide. Warm walnut handles mould to the palm of your hand, pink polished plaster walls are bathed in light from a skylight above and curved walls eliminate hard corners and hug the body, encouraging visitors to feel safe enough to let go and express themselves.

Photograph by John Short. Snug covered in Kvadrat/Raf Simons Vidar 3 443

09. Intimate

The snugs in the Maggie’s Centre are intimate spaces designed to balance the communal ones, holding and wrapping around the visitor in silent companionship. They provide moments for contemplation and escape, the opportunity to look out of the window, relax in a small group or just enjoy being alone.

Photograph by Ab Rogers Design

10. Communal

The kitchen brings people together, giving them a place where they can drink tea, talk and laugh, listening to stories, struggles and journeys, and feel more cared for and less alone in their own complex conversation with cancer.

Photograph by John Short. Bench upholstered in Kvadrat Canvas 2 954

11. Nurturing 

Maggie’s nurtures those facing difficult times, giving them spaces that care; cool, dark places in which to re-connect with themselves and find peace, whether by listening to their own breathing, being with a loved one or losing themselves in a view.

Photograph by Ab Rogers Design

12. Human Touch

Artist and illustrator Sara Fanelli was commissioned to create a series of exquisite hand-carved 'tattoos' on the building’s exterior, revealing the warm terracotta beneath its vibrant glaze. One of the core concepts of Maggie’s was to create an environment built by the hands of a collection of skilled craftspeople working with love, to be touched by Maggie’s users’ hands.
Expressions are everywhere throughout the buildings from the joinery to the fenestrations.