In a sprawling stretch of Southern England, the New Forest is one of the country’s last remaining tracts of pasture, heathland and forest. Designated as a National Park, it’s a popular destination — for humans, flora and fauna alike. Beyond the majestic greenery, near the port city of Southampton, the newest Maggie’s Centre for cancer patients has been brought to life through a collaboration between AL_A Architects and landscape designer Sarah Price. Located on the grounds of the Southampton General Hospital, the Centre translates the New Forest’s gentle beauty into a healthcare environment.
Founded in 1996 by artists and gardener Maggie Jencks and her husband Charles — himself a renowned landscape architect — in 1996, the eponymous cancer care centres now number over 25, with facilities erected across the UK and abroad. Each location is designed by an acclaimed architect — from Frank Gehry to Zaha Hadid — often combining soothing Scandinavian décor and immersive, ethereal landscapes. The Centres offer free support with managing the emotional and physical toll of a cancer diagnosis, as well as the financial and practical aspects that come with it — all while emphasizing the importance of family and community support in healing from a life-altering diagnosis.
In Southampton, the most immediately striking feature is the thoughtfully landscaped garden path that embraces its exterior. Conceived by landscape designer Sarah Price, the garden serves more than a purely aesthetic purpose. “There’s no doubt that looking at ‘nature’ has a positive impact on how we feel,” says Price. “The landscape draws its healing power from the rich diversity of the New Forest’s flora.” Assembling an array of wildflowers and local vegetation, such as wood anemones, orchids, bluebells, primroses, and various mosses and ferns, the designer enlivened the Centre’s grounds with a tranquil touch of whimsy.
Inspired by Mies Van Der Rohe’s courtyard house plans, the building itself is imbued with a distinctly residential feel. Four blade walls made of dual-toned ceramics by Spanish brand Cumella form the building’s skeleton. Each ceramic wall is glazed on one side and bare on the other — creating a contrast of textures along each edge. In parts, the exterior facade is clad in mottled stainless steel, reflecting and refracting the surrounding landscape — almost like a rippling body of water. The resulting impression is one of transparency, serenity and communion with nature. A sinuous walking path, interrupted by trees and shrubs, leads the way from the car park and hospital to the Centre’s entrance.
Inside, a polished concrete floor unites the separate wings of the building. An eclectic furniture style proper to Maggie’s Centres reigns: A large kitchen table sits at the heart of the building, under a round skylight, ready to be used as a casual gathering space. Sliding pocket doors lead from the private consulting rooms out into the garden, removing the boundaries between inside and out.
The “intimate rooms allow for privacy, whilst the communal spaces bring people together to share their stories and support one another,” remarks Dame Laura Lee, Maggie’s CEO and cancer nurse to the late Maggie Jencks. An important addition to the building, according to Lee, were “large windows that flood the centre with natural light.” Similar to immersion in nature, sunlight has an uncanny ability to lift the spirits — Maggie’s Southampton is a bright spot in an otherwise somber milieu.
The Amanda Levete-designed building embodies a community-driven, soothing sense of purpose.