Natural and sustainable materials for the new Maggie’s Centre in Leeds

Designer Heatherwick Studio / Lighting Designer: Light Bureau
Project Maggie’s Leeds Centre
Year 2020
Location Leeds, United Kingdom
Typology Medical centre
Photo Hufton+Crow

Maggie’s Centre is a charitable initiative co-founded in 1995 by garden designer Maggie and her husband, architecture critic Charles Jencks. Their vision was to create a cancer care centre, a safe and warm space where people could access emotional and psychological support surrounded by good architecture and uplifting landscape. Something about this cause has captured the imagination of the architectural community – starting with the Stirling Prize nominated Richard Murphy Architects’ design in Edinburgh. The latest Maggie’s Centre which opened in June of this year in Leeds - the charity's 26th centre in the UK -, was the work of London-based firm Heatherwick Studio.

In her book “A View From The Front Line” Maggie talked about the need for “thoughtful lighting, a view out to trees, birds and sky” and a design that goes beyond corridors with “Overhead neon lighting, interior spaces with no views out and miserable seating”. This is why Heatherwicks Studio decided only to use natural and sustainable materials together with thousands of plants, “to make an extraordinary environment capable of inspiring visitors with hope and perseverance during their difficult health journeys.", quoting the architect's word.

Heatherwick inspiration was bath-tubs found in his grandmother’s garden which over-flowed with plants. The building - located within the campus of St. James’s University Hospital in Leeds - is organized around three of these bath-tub inspired elements, which are made of curving timber grills, and which act as structural cores. These overscaled plant-pots have branching roofs delimited with continuous perimeter glazing. To frame the building sustainably sourced spruce wood was employed and built from prefabricated parts. The choice of lime plaster for the walls helps to maintain the internal humidity of the naturally ventilated building because of its porous qualities. Private counsel rooms can be found inside the cores, while social spaces are staggered at different heights in the open space; being the kitchen the heart of the centre. In addition, Heatherwick Studio designed two cork and beechwood tables for the Maggie's Centre, with podiums that echo the arching shape of the timber fins.

Lighting aims to create kinder spaces for the user as well as being emphatic with the architecture, plants, art and materials. Light Bureau’s approach was to emphasise the tranquil atmosphere and materiality of the project by placing warm lighting in niches which hold plants, pictures, books and other household things – making them rather than the lighting the priority. Elsewhere, simple uplights illuminate the soffits. Externally, lighting is very much garden-scale and appears unstructured like the planting, but is actually all carefully planned. The interplay between light and materials transform the buildings into lanterns that appear welcoming and calm for cancer patients in need of tranquillity and warmth.

The rooftop garden, designed by award-winning landscape designers Balston Agius, is inspired by Yorkshire woodlands and features native English species of plants, alongside areas of evergreen to provide warmth in the winter months. Inspired by Maggie Keswick Jencks’ love of gardening, visitors are encouraged to participate in the care of the 23,000 bulbs and 17,000 plants on site.

Maggie’s Leeds has been chosen as a 2021 Surface Design Awards finalist in the "light+surface exterior" and "light+surface interior" categories. The Surface Design Awards ( recognise and celebrate the best use of innovative surface materials in architecture and design from across the globe. Launched 8 years ago, these prestigious Awards keep growing year-on-year and are often seen as a reference for the architecture and design industry. Judged by some of the leading designers in the industry, the 2020 edition had an impressive 107 entries spanning 13 different countries including India, Australia, China and the USA.

  • No surface from the same designer.
  • No surface from the same company.