Maggie's Edinburgh.
Maggie Keswick Jencks couldn't have said it better than that. Diagnosed with cancer in 1988, she asked herself many questions, including “How am I going to deal with this?” and “What are the questions that I should have asked my doctor but didn't?” She felt that people like herself would benefit from a care center that would enable them to address all aspects of living with cancer while informing themselves about the medical realities of the disease.

And so the Maggie's Centres were founded in the United Kingdom in 1995. She did not live to see the first Maggie's Centre, but she had done all the necessary groundwork for it, including putting in place much of the financing for the original building project. Her husband, renowned landscape architect/critic Charles Jencks, followed through to make sure the cancer-caring centers Maggie imagined and planned actually came to life.

The end result was a growing series of personalized care facilities, designed by some of today's leading architects, aimed at helping people who have cancer to remain as healthy in mind and body as possible. The idea is that being in the right environment and having a thoughtful, active partnership with a doctor similarly inspired by the surroundings will help make cancer patients feel more hopeful, less isolated, and more in control of their situation (see “Healthcare Architecture as Placebo,” p. 22).

In her essay on what it was like to live with cancer, “A View From the Front Line,” Maggie lamented that hospitals' “overhead (sometimes even neon) lighting, interior spaces with no views out and miserable seating against the walls all contribute to extreme mental and physical enervation.” She envisioned a place with pleasant lighting and “a view out to trees, birds, and sky.” Perhaps there would also be a small cancer library for those who wanted to learn more about their disease, and even an old-fashioned ladies room, “not a partitioned toilet in a row.”

As Richard Murphy, architect of the first Maggie's Centre in Edinburgh, put it, the idea was “to build a facility that would be the antithesis of a health building.” In other words, a place that felt like home. To achieve this effect, features were added such as kitchens and living rooms, sliding/folding partitions that promote both openness and privacy, warm and inviting reception areas, and lots of windows to allow in plenty of natural light.

Jencks believed that Maggie's Edinburgh achieved its goal (see p. 24): “It combines the mix of informality, domesticity, and creative risk that we sought,” he says. “It led to the open plan that compresses many activities in a small space, the idea of intimacy, a friendly homelike atmosphere coupled with provocative architecture.”

In subsequent years an all-star cast of architects has elaborated on that theme in their own ways, each offering his/her own interpretation of healthcare design for cancer care outpatients. See, in the following pages, excerpts from Jencks's eloquent mission statement and a progress report on the Maggie's Centres that have been built or are soon to come.