Maggie's Edinburgh was the first Maggie's Centre built. Designed by Richard Murphy in 1995, it underwent a much-needed expansion in 1999 and today serves as the administrative hub for all of the Maggie's Centres.
One of the main challenges, says Murphy, was trying to do so much with so little. Founder Maggie Keswick Jencks had laid out an ambitious vision of what a cancer patient treatment facility should be, and the trick was making this vision a reality.
“There was a whole series of fairly disparate ambitions,” Murphy says, “ideas like patient empowerment, alternative sources of information, beauty treatments, nutrition lessons, counseling, group yoga, you name it. So the story wasn't merely keeping within the budget, but squeezing in as many activities as Maggie wanted in a limited volume. I approached the project as trying to build a facility that would be the antithesis of a health building,” Murphy continues. “I wanted to make it as noninstitutional as possible.”
Murphy believes a place becomes an “institution” when it has a corridor, so Maggie's Edinburgh has no corridors whatsoever. Instead, it is a very open place with sliding/folding partitions rather than doors. These partitions were intended to make spaces private or public at a moment's notice. Murphy also wanted it to feel more like someone's home by including a kitchen and living room and unmarked bathrooms. “You don't put a sign on the toilet door in your home, so we didn't do that here, either,” he says.
“It's all about the psychology of the patient. That's the most important thing,” says Murphy. “You have to make the place welcoming. And patients need to be able to find a space to be on their own, especially after getting diagnosed with cancer. It all translates into subtle architectural moves that you make.”
The subtle moves that were made were mostly internal. Maggie's Edinburgh moved into an existing structure, an old 19th-century stable, so the main work was done inside. “We were essentially building inside of a building,” Murphy says. “So Maggie's Edinburgh is really a modern building peeking out of an old one.”
As such, there is a juxtaposition of new material with old, the new being steel, glass block, Douglas fir, and glazing. The extension, built in 1999, features a larger kitchen, a small room for one-to-one advice, and a large sitting room. “Making the extension was more difficult than the original work because, at that time, Maggie had passed away, and we had to hang on to the spirit of the first building,” Murphy says. “I feel that we were successful in that the essence of the building didn't change.”
Meanwhile, a garden was added to extend the internal design of the Centre to the outside. Originally designed by Emma Keswick, the garden space becomes an extension of the kitchen in the summer months, when people sit and look out onto water features and a sculpture