Both are domestic in scale and share an impassioned client. First, my thanks to Chris for showing me the Maggies Centre designed by Rogers, Stirk Harbour and partners and a Stirling Prize winner in 2009. Other centres have seen awards too, most recently the RIBA regional awards. They are well deserved. The Maggie’s Centres were the idea of Maggie Keswick Jencks and Charles Jencks to offer support to cancer sufferers. The inhuman atmosphere of hospital wards and the lack of anything other than rigid clinical assistance led to the set up of Maggie’s Centres, first in Scotland but now in many counties and increasingly countries.
I had read about the architecture and the feeling of domesticity about the interior - it should be like a house not a hospital, but I was also struck by how ‘clubby’ it is. There is more going on than I had thought. It feels like a clubhouse of a grown up gang. It was humming. People working, chatting in small groups, places to be together and to be separate. It is a tiny building with many subtle and nice details. It has nothing resembling a corridor but it is full of little details such as the wood burning stove, the large table at its centre and a library that manages to blend the ubiquitous health advice leaflets with the secondhand paperback novels. Information is to be found rather than shouting out from every wall. Everything about it is not like a hospital. It is modest in size and scale, it is full of light. I was delighted to find that there are no laminated posters stuck to the wall trying to attract attention. It is well managed and when the inevitable temporary flyers arrive they are gently removed.
But it is not only the care with which the architects have put it together that counts but a client that knows what they want and what their customers, end users or residents will want. It is no co-incident that big name architects are used; they do attract the sponsors, which for a charity is vital, and most architects do the work unpaid. But they also sign up to be patrons of one sort or another. They have ownership too.
Laura Lee is Chief Executive, she was also Maggie’s nurse, she has the passion and drive and the knowledge. The buildings are built and run through charitable donations so the temptation is to do things sparingly, frugal or on the cheap. Chris believes that cost is rarely the issue - value is. The whole client team sees that each building can offer the same high quality service but can be different. Each building is a one off, but the level of support is consistent. Why not produce a small functional building that can be reproduced many times over? As Chris puts it, ‘why would you contribute your money to a building that looked like another. It is better to drive by and say ‘see that? I helped pay for that building.’
It highlights that people know good design when they see it, but more so are happy to pay for it. Maggie’s provide a high quality environment and a beautiful building for anyone regardless of status or background.
The client bought the site and wanted something different. While many have tried to sell pre-fabricated houses as the answer to mass housing construction, Bob and Tim seem to be pitching for a different market. People who could have the means to acquire a site in London or another town or city and build there own house, but are reluctant to choose an architect and don’t want to have to deal with the details of building regulations, builders or planning authorities.
What I like about this approach is that it is also an attempt at place making. The ‘kit of parts’ can be used to create high density but liveable places. It can be used to create apartment buildings but also to have the ground floor as an office or shop or other use with the upstairs as living space. It is very flexible. It is well detailed. The finish is marble smooth. The proportions are very pleasing, the windows are generous and there are features such as the security shutters built in.
Both these buildings share clients who have done their research, know why quality matters and insist upon it. Both have produced buildings that are highly individual and personal. However, the Maggie’s provides a similar level of care and use but in very different buildings while the Rational House is seeking to provide the same frame to meet individuals and different users. Both results are excellent.