Nestling in a green landscape like a pavilion in a park, a colourful contrast to the grey car park which surrounds the towering 1970’s block of Charing Cross Hospital, Maggie’s West London is one of 17 centres at NHS cancer hospitals in the UK providing support to people with cancer and their family and friends. All are designed as exemplar buildings by different architects to provide a new model of care in contrast to the normal institutional hospital environment. The centres are named after Maggie Jencks and mirror her belief that people should not “lose the joy of living in the fear of dying”.
Charing Cross Hospital moved from central London 1973 to its new building in Hammersmith. Designed by Ralph Tubbs, it is a building of its age, with the main fifteen-storey tower in the shape of a cross, along with lower-level buildings and three high-rise residential blocks for medical staff built to the south.
Maggie’s West London, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, won the RIBA Stirling in 2009 and still looks fresh today, while the landscaping designed by Dan Pearson has now matured. Richard Rogers had the concept of a heart nestled in the protective wrap of a building’s four walls. “The idea was to try to minimise the overbearing impact of Charing Cross Hospital. The roof, the landscaping, the hearth inside, the views out, each was to take you away from the hospital and the bustle of the road.” (Richard Rogers).
The Centre is designed to be a welcoming, friendly and flexible ‘open house’ of 370 square metres, arranged around four elements – the protective orange outer walls, the floating roof that helps flood the space with light, the kitchen which is the heart of the building and the meeting, sitting and consulting spaces which are arranged around the central space. The interior design is and relaxing and the landscaping around the building creates informal spaces and is green and lush is in contrast to the adjacent environment - mainly car parking which has compromised the original design of the 1970’s entrance to the hospital with long rectangular ponds, in which Henry Moore’s ‘Working Model for Reclining Figure (Lincoln Center)’ (1963-5) sits unhappily. A more recent sculptural addition is the six metre high statue by Jill Berelowitz in the form of a human spinal column which was installed at the front of the Hospital in 2013. Entitled ‘Core Femme’, the sculpture was presented by a private collector to Imperial College Healthcare Charity Art Collection - ‘a towering image of the body’s central element, the core through which life’s energy flows.’ (Jill Berelowitz)
It is a pity that this hospital environment is so dominated by car parking – and visitors will say that there is not enough for their demands. Why does the NHS not take more inspiration from the thoughtful design of Maggie’s Centres for mainstream hospital design? There are plans to close the hospital building and collocate services elsewhere – controversial as ever – what will happen to Maggie’s and to these sculptures if this happened?