Richard Rogers first came to international attention when he and Renzo Piano won the competition for the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1971. That radical intervention into the urban fabric of the French capital placed escalators into a transparent tube along one side of the building and mechanical services into multicolored modular units along the street elevation, such that interior space is freed up for ultimate flexibility and democratic participation in the arts.
Many distinguished buildings later, Rogers and his partners, Graham Stirk and Ivan Harbour, realized the first Maggie’s Centre in London. Awarded the 2009 Stirling Prize, the key prize for a building designed by a UK-registered practice, the Centre offers practical and emotional support to folks undergoing cancer care at the adjacent Charing Cross Hospital. The subject of our fall 2014 exhibition at the Heinz Architectural Center, more than a dozen Maggie’s Centres have been designed over the last two decades by influential architects and landscape designers across Britain.
I had the privilege of visiting the West London Centre in July, on one of the hottest days of the English summer. The building is screened from a heavily trafficked road by a rich orange wall. It has a perforated metal roof that cantilevers out as a protective canopy over communal spaces below; and a delightfully informal garden, with birch and bamboo, designed by Dan Pearson to lead you from the hospital car park into a calm and welcoming interior. As Ivan Harbour envisaged in his early design sketches, this is a double-story space with natural light on all sides and an inviting kitchen table where you can enjoy a cup of tea, meet friends and counselors, or simply read the newspaper. Tai Chi, Yoga and art classes are offered for free in addition to more personal consultation sessions.
Now Lord Rogers of Riverside, Richard Rogers has long been an advocate for architecture and urban design as both plastic arts and social facilitators. Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners currently have projects in the UK (their dramatic Leadenhall Building is nearing completion in the City of London) as well as in the US, Italy, Mexico, Australia, and China. Their studios, and the famous River Café run by Ruth Rogers, are a few streets’ away from Maggie’s West London. Possibly one of the practice’s smallest projects, it exudes, I can confirm, not simply tectonic skill but a remarkable sense of calm and grace. Special thanks to Bernie Byrne, Centre Head, and to Monique Proudlove, Counselling Psychologist, for facilitating my visit.
West London is one of five Maggie’s Centres presented in detail through drawings, photographs, models and videos in an exhibition that hopes to raise questions and expectations regarding healthcare and architecture, wellness and design. We’re unable to offer tea but there will be a kitchen table with books and comment cards, and there will be places to linger.
Organized by the New York School of Interior Design, Maggie’s Centres: A Blueprint for Cancer Care is at the Heinz Architectural Center, Carnegie Museum of Art from September 15, 2014 to January 5, 2015.