Published  14/10/2003

Frank Gehry - Maggie's Centre, Dundee

Frank Gehry – Maggie's Centre, Dundee

On the western, landscaped edge of Dundee city, overlooking the Tay Estuary, Frank Gehry's very latest work stands complete. It exists mindful of particular place-related precedent, of shrines or temples from pre-history or early classical periods. But this gem of a building evolves from the inside out; its undoubted sculptural dynamic is one of, 'Je vous embrasse', a personal bond with the visitor seeking sustenance of the spirit.

Opened 25 September 2003


The building is designed for day-visitors undergoing cancer care, either from Ninewells Hospital opposite, or coming in from outside. It has four principal, interlocking spaces, one on arrival, a second to the left with a kitchen, a third - an easy sitting area - and the fourth, a library on two levels. In the tower, the library rises to take full advantage of the magnificent view of water and hills, with the stair winding round the periphery of the inner volume. The use of plentiful natural timber, for the roof structures, internally exposed, here provides an elegant construction, echoing the communal areas below. Where Gehry shows himself to be a supreme master of his art is in retaining the centrifugal force of this building's volume, the spaces opening out like petals from a central stem.

The building straddles a natural promontory. But the point of arrival is both sheltered and private - no windows overlook the small car parking area, and so the combination of white-rendered walls and dynamic, sculpted sheet-metal roof flows beautifully here. From the entrance drive below, the roof seems to compress its elements, a series of sharply pointed gables, in stark contrast to the seductive flow that faces the arriving visitor.

Gehry says he was thinking of a Vermeer painting, a woman portrayed in a silken shawl, when he conceived the roof. One is perhaps also reminded of the Italian author Giuseppi di Lampedusa's soothing image, in The Leopard, of the angel of death who stooped over Don Fabrizio, her beautiful face revealed momentarily beneath the shawl as she collected him; it is to such serenities that Gehry's memorable masterwork corresponds. It seems nothing short of miraculous that Gehry, from Venice Beach some 6,000 miles westward, concocted this secret and perfect platform of human aspiration and release. It goes without saying, Frank, that Maggie Keswick Jencks would have been thrilled.

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