Published  06/11/2006

Maggie's Zaha

Maggie's Centre for Cancer Care

On 3 November, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown opened the Maggie's Centre for Cancer Care in his own constituency at Kirkcaldy in Fife, Scotland. This building has been designed (expenses only - no fees) by Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born London-based architect. It is the latest in a whole series of these buildings, developed by the American architectural writer and landscape designer, Charles Jencks, in memory of his wife, Maggie Keswick Jencks, who died of cancer in 1996. There have been centres at Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Dundee and now Kirkcaldy, all linked to major general hospitals with oncology wings. Heather May, a presumed terminally ill cancer patient, has just shown the determination that characterises the group and its supporters. She enthuses about the way the Edinburgh building, designed by architect Richard Murphy, is surrounded by a garden bursting with flowers and green foliage with a small fountain. History shows that from the Mughal gardens through the Renaissance, there is no doubt of the healing powers of gardens. Heather May is convinced of this benefit. She has also recently led a fund-raising group of over 40 cancer sufferers along a 70 mile-long section of the Great Wall of China, and has outlived all forecasts. Zaha Hadid has now been able to complete the latest Maggie's Centre, close to the Kirkcaldy General Hospital in Gordon Brown's hometown. This building, described by some potential users as 'daunting' but with a cosily womb-like interior space, will arouse some shock and awe, but the chances are that, in time, it will bed down. Elements of its external design reflect the coalmining heritage of slag heaps, but the dark coating to the building is designed to sparkle in the always-changing Scottish light. The Fife population will almost certainly take to it, and thank their lucky stars that this piece of international signature architecture came to them. In the same way that the nearby Dundee population (where there is also a high incidence of cancer sufferers) have taken to Frank Gehry's design for the Ninewells Hospital Maggie's Centre, now a major success.

No garden or landscape designer was required for Dundee - just exploitation by Gehry of the superb position overlooking the Firth of Tay. In this respect, Kirkcaldy is more problematic and challenging, and poses a problem. Edinburgh-based landscape architects Gross Max, who have worked successfully with Zaha Hadid before, were initially lined up but funding was tight. Some accommodation of landscaping or planting on a significant scale is definitely required for the new site, which is adjunct to the hospital car park in all its asphalted despair.

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