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Maggie's Centre Barts

Steven Holl Architects

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Symone Garvett

Project Name

Maggie's Centre Barts


6,534 sq. feet


Maggie Keswick Jencks Cancer Caring Centres Trust (Maggie's)

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Winner of an award in the 2017 P/A Awards

“I think it’s very beautiful—I love this translucent solution, and the color coming through. I thought it was very poetic.”
—juror Enrique Norten, Hon. FAIA

Buildings for Maggie’s Centre—a British organization co-founded by architecture critic Charles Jencks and named for his late wife—are designed to be warm, quiet spaces for people fighting cancer and their families. Not surprisingly, many are low-slung structures in park-like settings, but the latest, Maggie’s Center Barts, didn’t have that luxury. Located on a postage stamp of a site adjacent to the historic St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in central London, it had to pull double duty: Its exterior had to engage with the hospital’s other buildings, some dating to the 17th century, and it had to provide a sanctuary-like interior to give patients respite from the stress of the hospital experience. Steven Holl Architects designed the building to resemble a nest—or, as the Maggie’s Centre website calls it, an “urban townhouse.” The facility, the second of its kind in London, has a branching concrete frame, the interior of which is lined in perforated bamboo panels. The exterior skin is comprised of matte white glass, interspersed with pieces of colored glass—a triple skin that Holl calls “a vessel within a vessel within a vessel.” The glass creates a muted but playful façade, while filling the three-story center with diffuse, multicolored light. The center’s interior is organized around a three-story curving staircase, which leads to a tree-filled garden terrace and a multifunction community room. Along the way up, the staircase passes open and semi-enclosed spaces for counseling, group discussions, and light exercise. The result is a deceptively simple structure that both complements and contrasts with its hospital surroundings, visually and programmatically.

Project Credits
Project: Maggie’s Centre Barts, London
Client: Maggie Keswick Jencks Cancer Caring Centres Trust
Architect: Steven Holl Architects, New York . Steven Holl, FAIA (design architect, principal); Chris McVoy (senior partner-in-charge); Dominik Sigg (project architect, associate) Bell Ying Yi Cai, Gemma Gene, Martin Kropac, Christina Yessios, Assoc. AIA (project team)
Landscape Architect: Bradley Hole-Schoenaich
Associate Architect: JM Architects
Civil/Climate/Mechanical Engineer/Glass Consultant: Arup
Historic Building Adviser: Donald Insall Associates
Lighting Consultant: L’Observatoire International
CDM Coordinator: Floor Projects
Code Consultant: Butler & Young Group
Planning Adviser: DP9
Cost Estimator: Gardiner & Theobald
Construction Manager: Sir Robert McAlpine
Archaeology: Museum of London Archaeology
Size: 6,534 square feet
Cost: Withheld

Project Description


The site in the center of London is adjacent to the large courtyard of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Founded in Smithfield in the 12th century, the hospital is the oldest in London and was founded at the same time as the St. Bartholomew the Great Church in 1123. Rahere founded the church and hospital "for the restoration of poor men." Layers of history characterize this unique site, connecting deeply to the Medieval culture of London.
While most all of the realized Maggie's Centres have been horizontal buildings, the centre at St. Barts will be more vertical, sitting on the historically charged site. It will replace a pragmatic 1960s brick structure adjacent to a 17th century stone structure by James Gibbs, holding the "Great Hall" and the famous Hogarth staircase.
The building is envisioned as a "vessel within a vessel within a vessel." The structure is a branching concrete frame, the inner layer is perforated bamboo and the outer layer is matte white glass with colored glass fragments recalling "neume notation" of Medieval music of the 13th century. The word neume originates from the Greek pnevma, which means 'vital force.' It suggests a 'breath of life' that fills oneself with inspiration like a stream of air, the blowing of the wind. The outer glass layer is organized in horizontal bands like a musical staff while the concrete structure branches like the hand.
The three story centre has an open curved staircase integral to the concrete frame with open spaces vertically lined in perforated bamboo. The glass facade geometry, like a musical "staff" is in horizontal strips 90cm wide, which follow the geometry of the main stair along the north facade, while lifting up with clear glass facing the main square, marking the main front entry. There is a second entry on the west opening to the extended garden of the adjacent church.
The building tops out in a public roof garden with flowering trees open to a large room for yoga, Tai Chi, meetings etc. The interior character of this building will be shaped by colored light washing the floors and walls, changing by the time of day and season. Interior lighting will be organized to allow the colored lenses together with the translucent white glass of the facade to present a new, joyful, glowing presence on this corner of the great square of St. Barts Hospital.
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