The first thing one notices about the new Maggie’s Centre in Oxford, England, situated on the grounds of the Patricia Thompson Building, is how warm and friendly it seems. Designed by Wilkinson Eyre, the building consists of three spruce-clad wings, raised on splayed piloti resembling tree trunks. This modern treehouse – a prefab construction that is integrated thoughtfully into its site – provides an inviting place for cancer patients and their loved ones to seek advice, support and comfort.
The building nestles into sloped setting in various dynamic ways: a wraparound terrace with a glass balustrade doubles as a lookout point from which to enjoy a sweeping view of the small brook and nature reserve in the distance; and a staircase leads down into the grounds four metres below. A footbridge connects the building to the road.
While visitors enter the building via the library wing, the central gathering space is the kitchen. It is from this room, outfitted with a bespoke dining table and a stove, that the three wings radiate. The north section house three consulting rooms, and in the west is the relaxation area, with sofas and intimate reading nooks.
Inside, the palette is calming, with natural surfaces animated by a few colourful accents – a Diana Edmunds rug in the relaxation area adds a touch of drama – and awash in natural light from the clerestory windows and skylights. Outside, the architects chose finishes that will weather beautifully over time, from the silvery spruce cladding and the cross-hatch oak trellises to the copper roof. The building’s entire structure – from its crossply laminated timber panels to its glulam timber columns – were prefabricated offsite in order to minimize disruption to the natural setting.
This is the eighteenth Maggie’s Centre to be completed, the first having been unveiled in Edinburgh in 1996. Together they form the ever-growing legacy of the late Maggie Keswick Jencks, who, together with her husband – the architecture critic Charles Jencks – sought to create uplifting spaces where cancer patients like herself could be buoyed by beautiful architecture that fosters a deep connection with nature. Last year, Frank Gehry designed a Maggie’s Centre in Hong Kong, which is the first one situated outside the UK, and Foster + Partners is currently working on a centre in Manchester.