Maggie’s, Oldham, Greater Manchester

by architectural practice dRMM 

“You go into a hospital building and what do you expect? Some sort of horrible lobby with notices everywhere, a reception, some kind of security area. This is entirely the opposite.” 

Alex de Rijke, founder of the dRMM architectural practice, is referring to the Maggie’s facility in Oldham, which bares little resemblance to anything you would normally associate with healthcare. Yet it sits on the Royal Oldham Hospital’s campus, in north east Greater Manchester, and forms part of the site’s caner provision.

Maggie’s in Oldham by dRMM
Photo ©Tony Barwell

“With this building, what you get is an absence of reception, absence of darkness, absence of fluorescent lights, and all those things you think of when it comes to hospitals,” he continues. “No paint, no vinyl, but rather a tree, daylight, birds.”

It’s certainly a stunning design, both inside and out. Sitting within, or rather on top of, its own exterior garden, the striking wooden structure houses a variety of areas, each geared towards a different requirement. Whether that’s yoga or gardening workshops in communal rooms, 1-to-1 zones for more private meetings, the inviting welcome of the living room space, or centrepiece of them all, a kitchen, complete with kitchen table, the idea is to provide somewhere that is both homely and state of the art. 

Maggie’s in Oldham by dRMM
Photo ©Alex de Rijke

“In terms of Maggie’s, they always want somewhere to help people who are directly affected by cancer themselves, and their family or friends,” de Rijke explains. “Basically there is an increasing incidence of people suffering from cancer- something like one in three, and rising. But then a great number of other people are impacted because you end up caring for or living with people with cancer. 

“For the last 21 years Maggie’s has invited successive architects to do a one off design for each site, so nothing is repeated other than the basic brief. This means they have very different buildings across the country. It’s an honour to receive the invitation as they are usually very choosy and it’s in recognition of your work up to that point. They tend to invite people who are quite well known, and have produced outstanding architecture.” 

Maggie’s in Oldham by dRMM
Photo ©Alex de Rijke

In addition to that portfolio of properties this is certainly no exception. dRMM has won a multitude of awards for its undertakings, and is considered a materials pioneer, not least for its work with cross-laminated hardwood in the UK. This timber plays an integral role in both the form and function of Maggie’s in Oldham

(This project is part of the current Forest of Fabrication exhibition that opens today – 8th Feb at the Building Centre, London – on until 17th May 2019. ) A must visit.

Forest Of Fabrication_dRMM

“The conceptual basis could almost be described as a treehouse, with mature trees planted all around this building, which was always going to be engineered timber because that’s very much my approach to healthy architecture. Then we have taken one of the trees right through the building so we can bring light, nature, and a view of the sky into the middle of the structure. At each end there is glass, so you can see the Pennine hills to the north- this picture window idea. Then from the south end you can see the garden that we have made. It’s a simple idea but a very sophisticated building.

Maggie’s in Oldham by dRMM
Photo ©Alex de Rijke

“If you want to make a cigar box, you have to make it beautifully and out of a really beautiful wood. Cedar to keep them at the right humidity, and they would be carefully jointed. A thing of beauty. If you wanted to make a matchbox that’s a different thing, also precise but not the same at all. For this box the idea was to produce something where the structure would be the finish, and very evident. So nothing would be covered up. Like the cigar box model but perforated. Obviously with the big hole to let the tree through, and the light in, but also it had to span fairly big distances, standing on very small columns. There are only six small steel columns.” 

Maggie’s in Oldham by dRMM
Photo ©Alex de Rijke
Maggie’s in Oldham by dRMM
Photo ©Jasmin Sohi

The building certainly makes a statement, emphasising its natural assets and materials, while from the inside conveying comfortability and a warm welcome. Constructed from tulipwood, with corrugated heat-treated timber cladding, its columns lift the structure above the ground-level garden. The central core has been removed, allowing for some of that environment to penetrate the main floorpan. Meanwhile, the greenery continues well beyond the site, too, with captivating views across the surrounding landscape. 

Maggie’s in Oldham by dRMM
Photo ©Alex de Rijke

“Physically, obviously, the use of materials that are non toxic mattered. But then psychologically what you look at is also important, whether you feel confined or controlled, or whether you feel contemplative, and that you’re outside in nature. 

“I’m an architect who loves buildings but prefers to be outdoors, so the quest, really, with all my buildings is to somehow invert the paradigm of interior and exterior. So in this Maggie’s that comes from the presence of a tree inside, not a pot plant but a mature tree moving in the wind, framed within curved glass. The building has been cored.”

Maggie’s in Oldham by dRMM
Photo ©Alex de Rijke
Maggie’s in Oldham by dRMM
Photo ©Alex de Rijke
Maggie’s in Oldham by dRMM
Photo ©Alex de Rijke

“This means that now, rather than sitting on a plastic chair staring at a vending machine in a room without windows in the hospital, for hours, you can go to Maggie’s and have some homemade soup, in an environment that offers a more positive view of the world. It’s a very holistic approach to cancer treatment. You are entering a house, rather than a facility.” 


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