Maggie's Leeds is located within the campus of St. James's University Hospital. The 462sqm centre, which provides free practical and emotional support for people with cancer, is designed as a group of three large-scale planters. The design celebrates the restorative effects that nature has to offer, which is often missed in healing environments.
Driven by the belief that good design can help people feel better, we used several strategies to ensure that the centre environment felt welcoming. This included preserving and maximising the greenery on site, which was the last green patch on the hospital's campus. Inspired by the Yorkshire woodlands, the centre's rooftop garden uses native English plant species, totalling 17000 plants and 23000 bulbs.
Inside, the programming was largely informed by Maggie's, the charity, who consider the kitchen as the ‘heart’ of each of their 26 centres. We decided to situate more social spaces for group activities around the kitchen, including a library and exercise room. The three planters each enclose an intimate counselling room.
We also chose to use several 'healthy' materials including naturally hygienic lime renders and energy-saving techniques like natural ventilation.
The complexities of the compact sloped site and contaminated soil would have required expensive and significant piling into the natural bedrock. Instead, we decided to create a raft foundation which lightly floated over the contaminated land, spreading the load across its surface. The lightweight properties of timber were an important factor in achieving this foundation.
There was also a six-metre difference in level across the site which would typically dictate a building dug into the slope but instead, we chose to follow its natural contours, so that at the highest point, visitors would have views of the Yorkshire Dales. The stepped roofs then allowed us to provide more greenspace than we were taking away while also sheltering communal areas.
Internally, the centre’s design explores everything that is missed in healing environments: natural and tactile materials, soft lighting, and a variety of spaces designed to encourage social opportunities as well as quiet contemplation.
We designed a structure that could be built off-site and assembled quickly on a concrete slab and retaining wall, with minimal disruption. The pre-fabricated insulated timber cassettes were manufactured in Switzerland and fixed together on site in just eight weeks. These are supported by glulam fins, whose modulations give the feeling of trunks rising up from the ground to support the gardens overhead. The structure is made entirely of sustainably forested spruce and the floors are made of durable engineered timber.
With a timber structure, we could easily translate the design’s geometric form into a series of radiating fins. The structural fins are intentionally left exposed as they inherently possess the domestic and biophilic sensibilities that the studio wanted to permeate throughout every element of Maggie’s Leeds. Additionally, timber’s good insulating properties enabled the structure to run continuously from inside to out without requiring complicated cold bridging mitigation.
Both the building and the gardens have been designed to be as low maintenance as possible so that Maggie’s can focus on the important work that they do.