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Maggie's Oldham By dRMM
21 years after the first Maggie’s Centre opened in Edinburgh, their 21st centre has just been completed in Oldham. Maggie’s centres offer a drop in service and sanctuary for cancer sufferers and those affected by the disease, a place where they can get help from professionals and relax and communicate with others who understand their situation. They are normally situated in the grounds of NHS hospitals, and often designed by high profile architects such as Zaha Hadid, Fosters, and Rogers to name a few. Having analysed a number of centres for my final year university project, I thought it would be interesting to explore this one. The diverse nature of Maggie’s centres due to the strong styles of their architects, coupled with the consistent set of requirements and desires in all the centres, makes each building unique and highly intriguing from an architectural viewpoint.
With the Oldham centre, London based firm dRMM have designed what they call “a well-made, carefully proportioned, simple box of surprises”. This is certainly true, as can be seen from the plan. There is one principal space, with a handful of more private rooms along one edge of the building. Through the use of a large light well, thoughtful furniture placement and curtain partitions, the principal space is adaptable and well defined. The open plan is light and spacious, without feeling overwhelmingly large or empty.
Raising the box on stilts was a key decision by the architects, and in my opinion it carries a number of advantages. As shown in the section, the increased elevation increases the privacy of the interior from the public road. Furthermore, visitors will not feel compressed and hemmed in by the surrounding buildings, increasing comfort. Views to the Pennines have been facilitated by the stilts, and captured in a large, wrap around window that overlooks the roofs of Oldham. This window, along with the central light well, admit plenty of natural daylight. When studying a number of Maggie’s centres for a similar project at university, I realised the importance of outside space. It allows visitors to escape from others whilst remaining in the safe bubble that encloses a building’s site. Humans have an intrinsic connection to nature, and simply spending time within it can improve wellbeing and distract from life’s hardships. Raising the building on stilts has allowed the architects to create some outside space on the constrained site, and whilst it is not ideal it certainly looks tranquil and pleasant.
dRMM seem to have deliberately contrasted the front and rear aspect of building to satisfy specific conditions. The public, street facing end is relatively closed and defensive with flat, solid faces that make the centre seem heavy, solid and confident. This helps to present the building as a place of security and safety for visitors that know its function whilst deterring those who don’t from investigating it further. The rear end of the building is completely different. It is open and welcoming, with a broken facade and slatted faces. The box seems to float from this viewpoint due to the relatively hidden stilts, with the slender staircase apparently tethering the centre to the ground. This aesthetic is a result of this end of the centre facing the private garden. Its design softens the interior exterior threshold, creating a sense of ownership of both spaces for visitors and allowing them to feel at ease in either.
Timber is abundant within the scheme, both in a raw and engineered state. It is a tactile material that is warm and domestic against other construction alternatives such as steel and concrete. Its versatility is clear to see in the photos above, having been utilised both internally and externally in the Maggie’s Oldham scheme as furniture, ceilings, railings and even the prefabricated structural panels which essentially hold up the building. Placing a tree in the central light well was a clever creative addition by dRMM. It visually breaks up the primary internal space, provides a constant view of nature and creates a pleasing dappled shadow pattern on the floor. It is the holistic vision of an architect that facilities features such as these, where the combination of elements adds up to more than the sum of the parts.

Maggie’s centres are generally a fantastic precedent for sensitive architecture. By definition they are not showy, forced or commercially driven. They exist purely to improve the lives of those who use them, without any ulterior motives. Despite working to the same brief, each centre is individual due to the character of their architect. Maggie’s centres embody an architectural culture that should be prevalent across the whole industry: an overarching focus on specific, thoughtful, human design, coupled with the creative flair and individuality of the architect.