The Maggie's Centre is complete!


On June 9, the Maggie's Centre was opened.  Designed by London-based firm dRMM, the simple yet sophisticated timber building hovers over a landscaped garden, offering serene views of the horizon and the nearby Pennines mountain range.

Maggie's cancer charity was founded by the late Maggie Keswick Jencks and her husband, architecture theorist Charles Jencks, to offer support to people living with cancer and their family and friends.

So far, 19 Maggie's Centres have been built across the UK, including designs by Snøhetta and Amanda Levete, all of which offer a non-clinical environment where anyone living with cancer can stop by for advice or support.

Supported by six slender columns, the building floats above a garden filled with trees. It is accessed via a bridge and by a timber and steel staircase to the garden.  From a central oasis, a tree grows up through the building, bringing nature inside. A balcony stretches across the south side of the centre to provide an outdoor seating area, while to the north, where the building projects over a stone wall, a long horizontal window wraps the façade.

New trees are carefully placed to frame the timber building. They form a wood which provides privacy and creates a strong connection to the seasons. Leaves turning from green to gold and by winter forming a filigree of twigs and white trunks.

The building’s elevated position takes in surprising views that reach over the rooftops of Oldham towards the Pennines beyond. From here you can stand and watch the weather move across the wider landscape, observing how the city turns to farmland, then to mixed forest rising the flanks of the great ridge.

The garden is framed by enclosing walls. The building floating above is like a drop curtain to the scene, creating a picture window effect. The trees soar upwards, filling the volume of the space. Some woodland weaves between the structure of the numerous white birch and crispy bark of pine trunks. Layered drifts of woodland planting add depth and creates the impression that they have colonised this place naturally. Many native plants have been used, but have a cultivated twist like the copper variety of common hazel nut, Corylus purpurea, or a Dogwood which has particularly beautiful white flowers, Cornus ‘China Girl’.

Woodlands are also planted with the future in mind. They have a longevity and a purpose. The birch trees at Maggie’s Oldham have been planted at various maturities. This successional approach will mean the trees can evolve over many years and always have a presence at the Maggie’s Centre; over a timescale that is beyond us all.

A large threshold stone marks the space where you step under the footprint of the building. There is a feeling that perhaps water has once rushed through this undercroft. Differently graded raked gravels indicate paths, but do not dictate them. Some gravels are comfortable to walk over, others bank up and sweep through under the stands of birch trees. Embedded rocks emerge from the planting, with Pittosporum nana tobira mounding over them. A carpet of ‘mind your own business’ is encouraged to grow lawn like into the marginal spaces under the building.

A striking quality of light is created by the building raised above. Indirect light filters down the outline of its edges. Swathes of shuttlecock ferns capture light in their up-reaching fronds which are in turn hi-lighted against a backdrop of evergreen Nadina, Sarcococca and creeping Hydrangia seemannii. A shaft of light falls through the central aperture of the building, illuminating a single multi stemmed Birch, Betula pendula szechuanica. Nestled within the grassy mound a water bowl becomes a shining point of light, drawing people further into the space. A second water bowl fills up and spills over with rain water from the roof. This simple method brings the sound and movement of water into the space.

The terrace forms a raised sun trap. Here a communal table is surrounded by huge clay pots packed with herbs to be picked for fresh tea infusions or used in the kitchen. Potted fruit trees are underplanted with lavender for scent. A fig tree thrives in this sunny corner, a rare plant to find in Oldham. The greenhouse offers the chance to get involved, perhaps help make fresh organic tomato soup for lunch at the round tulipwood table at the heart of the Centre.

Project credits: 
Funding: Stoller Charitable Trust
Timber advice: AHEC
Landscape Consultant: Rupert Muldoon
Structural Engineer: Booth King
Main Contractor: F Parkinson
Building Services Engineer: Atelier Ten
Structural Timber Subcontractor: Zublin Timber
Tulipwood Supplier: Mid Tenessee Lumber
Machining of Cladding: Morgan Timber
Internal Joinery: Uncommon Projects
Artist (Curtain): Inside/Outside
Landscape Subcontractor: Hultons Landscapes/Wright Landscapes
Curved Glazing: IPIG
Timber-framed Windows: Aresi