Maggie’s Centres: A Focus on Scotland

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Maggie’s Dundee, 2003. Architect: Frank Gehry. Photograph © Raf Makda.

On Thursday, September 18, Scotland votes on independence. Over four centuries after the English and Scottish crowns joined forces, and over three centuries after the original Act of Union, the people of Scotland will democratically elect to remain within or abandon the ideal of a United Kingdom. When Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh, in 1835, such rupture would have seemed incredible as the British Empire ruled approximately a fifth of the world’s population and one quarter of the Earth’s land area.

Scottish architecture has frequently differentiated itself from practice south of the Border. A century ago, Scots, most notably the incomparable Charles Rennie Mackintosh, seemed simultaneously more local and more European than their English counterparts. Established in Edinburgh in 1995, Maggie’s Centres are not in the business of nationalism or party politics; nevertheless their remarkable architectural program pays close attention to the international and the local. At Kirkcaldy, a mere 14 miles from Carnegie’s birthplace, Baghdad-born Zaha Hadid designed one of the first Centres, whereas the Norwegian practice Snøhetta recently completed the Maggie’s Centre just up the coast at Aberdeen.


Maggie’s Highlands, 2005. Architect: David Page. Landscape design: Charles Jencks. Photograph © Nick Turner.

As the exhibition Maggie’s Centres: A Blueprint for Cancer Care reveals, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his practice OMA are responsible for a delicate glass pavilion on the grounds of a brooding Victorian hospital at Gartnavel in Glasgow, while LA’s Frank Gehry, an old friend of Charles Jencks and the late Maggie Keswick Jencks, the co-founders of Maggie’s Centres, has interpreted indigenous building types for Maggie’s Dundee. For this complex assemblage Gehry, most famous for the Bilbao Guggenheim, was inspired not only by fabric as depicted by Johannes Vermeer (for the folded metal roof) but by traditional Highland cottages, modest yet robust, known as but’n’ben.

Maggie’s program also includes local architects, challenging them to be as inventive and ambitious as foreign colleagues. In 1995, the very first Centre was entrusted to Richard Murphy, then an up-and-coming talent in the capital. Page\Park (also architects for the Carnegie Institute Office in Dunfermline) are responsible for two Centres: Glasgow and Inverness. For Inverness, Charles Jencks designed a dramatic garden that evokes ancient Celtic mounds and cosmological diagrams, an interpretation of landscape both timeless and experimental. The newest image in the exhibition is of Maggie’s Lanarkshire, an elegantly cool building with perforated brick walls, almost Scandinavian in flavor, by the Edinburgh practice Reiach and Hall.

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Maggie’s Lanarkshire, 2014. Architect: Reiach and Hall. Photograph © David Grandorge.

Whichever way the vote goes on Thursday, Scotland is witnessing a new era in its history. Engaging Scottish architects, reinterpreting the Scottish landscape, and with contributions from such important Scottish artists as Eduardo Paolozzi and Callum Innes, Maggie’s Centres have a unique role in the evolution of culture in Scotland.

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.