This year we were commissioned by The Architect's Journal to document each of the 6 nominees for 2015's Stirling Prize. We visited Lanarkshire to see the new Maggie's Centre by Reiach and Hall Architects.
From the RIBA...
This new Maggie’s Centre is on the old Airdrie House estate, which was enclosed by a belt of lime trees, some of which still survive. So far so good. The old house was demolished in the ‘60s to be replaced by Monklands District Hospital in the ‘70s. It’s not a looker. Nor, it be honest, is the housing that abuts it. Airdie cannot afford architectural refinement, or so the thinking went until Reiach and Hall came along.
Children of the ‘60s themselves, these are architects who know whereof they speak. They have designed hospitals aplenty and won awards for them, in particular New Stobhill in Glasgow (mid-listed for the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2010) and even more relevantly the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, also in Glasgow, in 2009. If anyone can, they can begin to build the bridge between the impersonality of cancer-care in big hospitals and the niche architecture, the womb-like approach of most Maggie’s Centres that coddle the cancer-sufferer without maybe giving them the tools to go back into the world and carry on fighting. This open and uplifting place does that, because it is more like a house we might aspire to own.
So the architects were ideal candidates to solve the problem: how to make something that is of the world and yet gives shelter from it, that turns its back but does not close its eyes. The answer is in a new surrounding perforate wall of hand-made Danish brick that recaptures some sense of paradise – which means literally walled enclosure – offering a degree of separation from the nearby hospital grounds. Stand on the rear terrace and you can see the houses opposite, walk down the steps into the courtyard and they and the rest of the worlds are hidden. From the outside the wall conceals a modest, low building that gathers a sequence of domestic-scaled spaces. Thus it affords a kind of passive security without blanking out the well-meaning passer-by. Visitors enter a quiet arrival court, defined by the low brick walls and two lime trees. At once, a sense of dignity and calm is encountered. A linear rill, a spring, animates the space with the sound of running water. The house is as much a modest church with a nave for the more public functions (meeting, greeting and the hearth – the Maggie’s table around which tea and mutual support are shared). Two unroofed courts catch sunlight, creating sheltered “sitooteries” (a Scots gazebo) and reflecting back the warm light via perforated copper panels. Then there are discreet ‘chapels’ off the side-aisles: four walls and a door for more private moments, differently scaled from loos where one can contemplate to a big dividable room capable of accommodating big groups – men, stubborn working-class men who find it hard to talk about or even admit to their problem are a major target here and it seems to be working.
This is a truly memorable addition to a noble tradition of specialist health buildings.