Latitude/Longitude: 57.4726, -4.19273
In the past, gardens and architecture were often unified around a controlling idea. This concept was the key for yoking together disparate requirements with aesthetic and spiritual ideas. Throughout history special sites of landscape beauty have been set apart for the ritual of healing. Places of purification, such as bathing in the Ganges or immersion at Lourdes, have become settings for self-transformation. This notion is key for Maggie’s Highlands, because they are based on the idea of patients taking an active role in their own therapy, and thereby transforming a question on their mind, “will I live?” into “the will to live”.
It is a transformation from confusion and despair to hope and action.In conceiving the Maggie’s Highlands at Inverness, the designers thought of a basic organizing idea: the theme of cells dividing (mitosis) as they do in a healthy individual, in balance and communicating with each other.This concept led to the adoption of form that is repeated and transformed throughout the building and the landscape, the vesica shape, an oval with points at either end. It can be seen unfolding, from right to left, across the site and in the future may be extended right to the roadsides. The idea is that those using the Maggie’s Centre will have many different experiences within this overall theme. Places of social activity and passive contemplation, group participation and a quiet relation to nature.
The idea of interconnected, living cells is conveyed by the visual and physical connections. Both the building, with its green copper, and the landforms with their green turf, share a related color and a similar language of forms: similar angles, dimensions and vesica shape. As one traverses the site, the dynamic balance between these forms is immediately felt, an analogue of the continuous balance between cells in the body, as they send messages to each other. These constant signals, and the harmony between them, are what keep the body healthy and in balance.In the struggle with cancer, the frame of mind plays an important role. Thousands of physical and social problems come to the fore at once. One needs a place apart, some protected area in the landscape to get a certain distance from the pressing concerns. At the summit of each mound is a seat, for one or two, from which one can get a certain distance and perspective.
A place for contemplation. On the seats two-ways words, ambigrammi, are inscribed in the stone making a comment on the ascent and layout, ambiguous meanings that challenge the eye and mind.Look down and you will see the visual illusion created by white and green stripes alternating as figure and ground; a flash or cut travels from one mound, or nucleus of the cell, to the other. This is one of those signals so important to cell balance and health – what is known as the long, or endocrine signal. The short distance signals, the paracrine, are marked through the flash tips closer to both cells, and the white pathways of the mounds (signaling to themselves) are known as the autocrine. This is, for instance, a T-cell telling itself to divide. Communication between cells, the constant chatter, is a path to health, just as is the decision to eat well, exercise and transform one’s daily life. Gateways and fencing carry through similar ideas of communication and wave-form.It is the sense of harmony, and a message behind the pattern, that matter more than understanding the technicalities, the contemplative distance that a garden affords is key. But the struggle with cancer engages the mind and a healing garden should also present deeper ideas, and some mysteries, for those who wish to explore them. Getting a new perspective on things is part of the transformative experience essential to the idea of Maggie’s and seeing new ideas of health and the arts is part of that too.
The form and architectural language of the building directly responds to the two vesica shaped spiral mounds, together combining to create a trilogy of interconnected forms. The building is conceived as an inversion of one of the mounds, with walls angling out rather than in, clad in green pre-patinated copper bands spiralling up and around the building, echoing the spiralling paths on each mound.The vesica spiral of the building envelope overlaps and interconnects with a second spiral, forming an enclosing fence to a garden space adjacent the building. This overlapping of two vesica shapes is metaphorically representative of a specific phase of cell mitosis – the organising theme of the garden design.
In this phase, known as the ‘anaphase’, two recognisable cells become apparent, dividing along an ‘equatorial plate’.The second vesica shape begins within the heart of the building at the location of this ‘equatorial plate’ – in this case represented by the staircase – and sweeps round to emerge externally creating the private garden enclosing fence. The mitosis symbolism extends to the detail of the stair balustrading, designed to express dividing chromosomes.Internally, the building design seeks to provide a flexible yet homely environment. An open plan space at ground floor contains lounge, kitchen, dining and library areas, and can be subdivided with curved sliding doors to form enclosed rooms for specific centre activities. The open plan nature of the building, as well as promoting interaction of people using the centre, enables an appreciation of the basic spiralling vesica shapes from any point when standing within the building. It also enables a flow of space from outside to inside to outside again, from the mounds through the building and out again into the enclosed garden – blurring the perceived boundaries between inside and outside.
This flexible yet defined ground floor area is complemented with some smaller enclosed counselling rooms located below the mezzanine administration floor, all combining to create a rich variety of spaces with differing degrees of enclosure, privacy and openness. This provision responds to the programmatic requirements of the centre as well as the emotional needs and variances of people associated with cancer. Rooms to talk privately and ‘hide’, and other spaces to quietly sit and contemplate. Spaces to socialise and chat, and other areas to sit and look at the landscaping and gardens.
The building is a timber frame construction built off a concrete raft foundation. The wall panels – a basic sandwich construction of timber stud with OSB boarding to both faces fully filled with insulation – were largely prefabricated prior to delivery to site, and are connected at floor and roof level with continuous spliced laminated plywood chords. The roofs were constructed on site and utilised timber I joists, laminated timber beams and softwood joists in combination, dependant on location and structural requirement. As with the walls, the twisting roof planes were plated top and bottom with OSB boards and the voids fully filled with insulation.
The structural stability of the frame relies on the wall and roof sandwich constructions acting together in a monocoque shell type action, each element reliant on the other for stability. Externally the building is clad in copper. Vertical panels of preoxised (brown) copper clad a low level ‘plinth’, whilst pre-patinated (green) copper strips wrap the spiral form above the base plinth level in rising horizontal ‘bands’ expressing the spiralling vesica shape. The detailing and specification of the copper was developed in association with the cladding subcontractor – W.B.Watson.Internally, the spiralling monocoque wall and roof shell form is clad with solid birch plywood, fully bonded to the OSB internal skin and finished with clear fire retardant lacquer. Externally the equivalent plywood cladding is finished with translucent wood stain to match the timber.Douglas fir was selected for the exposed timber columns seen internally and externally, to complement the solid birch and birch plywood internal joinery and finishes. The external garden wall sweeping into the building is clad in rough sawn larch vertical boarding, and is capped externally with an oxid copper capping. A rich warm colored ‘jatoba’ hardwood floor (FSC certified) contrasts the birch finishes internally – a colour echoed in the external decking by the lounge and kitchen areas, again blurring the perceived boundary between internal and external spaces.
⇒ Architecture Guide to INVERNESS