Heatherwick Studio’s new Maggie’s Centre bares its timber framing

Paleo Futures

Heatherwick Studio’s new Maggie’s Centre bares its timber framing

Heatherwick Studio has completed its first Maggie’s Centre, a ‘compassionate care’ treatment facility for cancer patients in Leeds, England, with stepped terraces intended to make the three-building cluster resemble a series of planters.

Located adjacent to St. James’s University Hospital, the center is Heatherwick Studio’s first healthcare project.

“Our aim,” wrote Thomas Heatherwick in the project’s release announcement, “was to build a home for people affected by cancer that would be soulful and welcoming, unlike other typical clinical environments.

“By only using natural, sustainable materials and immersing the building in thousands of plants, there was a chance for us to make an extraordinary environment capable of inspiring visitors with hope and perseverance during their difficult health journeys.”

To that end, the design team use a natural material palette across the project site. Sustainably sourced, modularly assembled spruce was used to frame each of the three intersecting volumes, while porous lime plaster was used for the walls thanks to its moisture absorbing qualities, meaning that each building could be passively ventilated. The exposed timber struts in each structure flow up and outward from a central “stem,” while each building is wrapped in a glass curtain wall, lending them the appearance of mushrooms. Inside, an exercise room, communal kitchen, a library, and other socialization areas fill out the programmatic elements, while each building has a separate, private counseling room.

A staircase below exposed timber slats
Plenty of plants cascade along terraces, down stairs, and across ledges. (Hufton + Crow)

Rounding out the scheme and enhancing the “planter”-like quality of the structures is a vegetation scheme from the U.K.-based landscape architecture firm Balston Agius. The team used a variety of evergreen Yorkshire-native plants to cover the roofs of the center, and inside, flora in wicker baskets cascades down the stairs and shelves. As a nod to the late Maggie’s co-founder Maggie Keswick Jencks, visitors are also invited to engage with and tend to the 17,000 plants and 23,000 bulbs at the center, an act of landscape-based contemplation.