Published  05/07/2006

Sanctuaries of today

Designer and critic Charles Jencks and his late wife Maggie developed the programme for 'Maggie's Centres' intended for outpatient cancer care. These are located close to major NHS hospitals to receive and welcome their stricken visitors. The small but dedicated staff teams in each centre provide a sense of relief and reassurance - even hope - for the terminally ill walking wounded of the cancer battle. Frank Gehry designed the centre at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, which opened in 2003. A new post-occupational survey (backed by the Lighthouse Centre in Glasgow and other bodies) has just been completed by Fionn Stevenson and Professor Gerry Humphris (of Dundee University and St Andrews University, respectively.) The survey shows that Gehry's building has been very positively endorsed by the majority of patients. Now, Zaha Hadid has designed a new centre closer to Edinburgh, at Kirkcaldy in Fife, which will open this September. This scheme, on which Eelco Hooftman, the landscapist, has collaborated, has a geometrical form set deep in the landscape recesses close by the hospital. This is also in the constituency of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (and Prime Minister-in-waiting), Gordon Brown. By hosting receptions at No 11 Downing Street, and within the constituency, he has signalled maximum support for the Maggie's Centres at the highest level. The existing Maggie's Centres in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness are full to capacity, dispensing their uplifting message of care. Charing Cross Hospital, London, will soon see a new centre, designed by Richard (Lord) Rogers. The Japanese architect, Kisho Kurokawa, is working on a centre for South Wales. Charles Jencks, no mean landscapist himself, designed an intricate garden landscape for the Inverness Centre. For the centres as a whole, the original idea came to Charles Jencks and his dying wife Maggie (Keswick) as they waited interminably for her diagnosis and treatment in gloomy and anonymous hospital corridors (she died in 1996.) This whole, enlightened programme was, it can be said, her legacy, carried by her own enthusiasm until the end. Now Charles Jencks has gradually assembled a dedicated board led by Maggie's former nurse, Laura Lee. Maggie's Centres will now develop further, both within Britain and hopefully also in America.

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