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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Maggie's vision for cancer care, Charles Jencks, Zaha Hadid and Glasgow's new transport museum

From left, Frank Gehry's Maggie's Centre in Dundee, Zaha Hadid's Maggie's centre in Kirckaldy and one of Patricia Cain's Riverside Studies of Hadid's work-in-progress on Glasgow's Clydeside which won her this year's Aspect Prize.

When I started up this blog last year, I was going to take the time to go through past features I've written and was relatively proud of. I'd post them up here as a personal archive to save them getting lost in the mists of newspapers and magazines past.

Oh, and maybe a catastrophic computer crash on my part.

As with most best-laid plans, I'm on and off the case by degrees.

The best thing about archiving your work is that blogs don't gather paper mites - the scourge of the messy newspaper office (and believe me, I've seen a few in my time!) The other thing good thing about blogging is that it's so immediate.

It's a bit like a sketch pad for ideas and images. I've been surprised by the life of its own which this blog seems to have. I end up tapping away when I have time on subjects about which I haven't written formally.

Which is why, following a meeting in which the name of Charles Jencks and Zaha Hadid came up several times, I ended up thinking I should fish out a piece I wrote almost two years ago for The Herald on a trip around three of the five Maggie's Cancer Care Centres in Scotland.

Charles Jencks is the husband of Maggie Keswick-Jencks, the inspiration behind Maggie's. He is also an pre-eminent architectural theorist, landscape architect and designer.

In May 2008, I spent a day on a tour round the Maggie's Centres in Edinburgh, Dundee and Kirkcaldy in the company of Charles and a bunch of architects. It was an inspiring day and everyone, to a man and woman, was knocked out by the simple blend of practical care and sympathetic design, which worked so well at each centre.

The copy follows on below, but by way of explanation, the other day, Aspect Prize Chairman, Charlie Jamieson and new AP winner Trish Cain went to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum to have a meeting with Gavin McLellan, who is director of the Riverside Museum Appeal.

Gavin got in touch with me via this blog after seeing coverage in it of Trish's Riverside Museum studies for the Aspect Prize. Trish has been doing site visits to internationally feted architect, Zaha Hadid's work in progress on the banks of the River Clyde since it was a hole in the ground.

Trish is fascinated by being in among a construction like this. As it takes on a life of its own, her style of documenting its progress is like mapping our existence in an increasingly complex world.

The new Riverside Museum (http://www.riversideappeal.org/) which will replace Glasgow's old Transport Museum at the Kelvinhall, looks and sounds amazing. It is due to open in the summer of 2011 and I, for one, can't wait to take my kids there. It's how you imagined the space age would look when you were a kid.

Which brings us back to Zaha Hadid. Her designs have a touch of the Darth Vader about them, but look closely and you see a master at work. The only one I've seen in the flesh is her Maggie's Centre in Kirckaldy and if ever a building fulfilled its brief, it is that one.


Charles Jencks – architectural critic and landscape artist of world renown – is fond of metaphors. As he guides a small group of architects and a leading textile designer on a whistle-stop day trip of three Maggie’s cancer care centres, he is in his element and the metaphors come thick and fast.

The most telling comes towards the end of our sojourn, when we reach renegade architect Zaha Hadid’s fiercely jaggy black building in Kirkcaldy, opened 18 months ago by local MP Gordon Brown and slated in the architectural press.

“What you need here on this kitchen table is a geode,” he tells centre head, Ruth McCabe, who looks at him quizzically. “They have a thin outer shell and inside there are layers of luminous crystal. This building is like a geode. It has the same effect. People think it looks harsh from the outside, but inside, it is light, bright and calm.”

Jencks is the husband of the late Maggie Keswick-Jencks, after whom the Maggie’s Centres are named. Although he takes a hands-off approach to the running of the centres, allowing a growing team of dedicated staff to get on with their work, he is the man who has been instrumental in pushing the metaphorical Maggie’s bus onwards and upwards into the 21st century since its inception in 1996.

Unfortunately today, as he is driving ahead in his own car, Jencks is not aboard our bus, which started out at the headquarters of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) in central Edinburgh and is headed for centres in Edinburgh, Dundee and Kirkcaldy.
To be fair to the architects on board, the lack of sparkling repartee and informed comment on the state of modern design has more to do with the fact our jaunt followed on from a night of excess to round off the annual convention of the RIAS, than lack of social graces.

To a man and a woman, they are eager to learn from the Maggie’s experience and at every turn, gaze hand on chin, at lighting effects, drainage systems and curved beams, which in Frank Gehry’s rolling wooden ceiling in Dundee look to a novice like a miracle of carpentry. In this company, roofs are a big talking point, especially in Dundee and Kirkcaldy, where a black liquid polyurethane coating has been mixed with silicone carbide grit to give the impression of sparkling coal.

“It would be good to see it in the rain,” says Neil Macdonald, architectural assistant with Edinburgh-based firm Simpson & Brown. “It may be dull, but it’s practical!”

If ever a building needed to work, a Maggie’s Centre does, and for this group, that is the attraction, as is the fact Gehry and Hadid’s centres are the first buildings by either architect to be constructed in the UK.

Also on board our bus, is Paul Simmons, of Timorous Beastie, the textile designer who has designed the logo for the Herald’s Friends of Maggie’s campaign. “I’m just interested in good design,” he smiles. “It’s fascinating to see the centres with someone like Charles.”

For a relatively small charity, Maggie’s Centres have garnered a lot of attention. This is mainly because Jencks counts some of the leading architects of the post-modern age as personal friends and has persuaded them to waive their fees to design a Maggie’s Centre, of which there are six existing buildings and several more in the pipeline.

Other leading figures who have worked on Maggie’s buildings include, Richard Rogers (architect of the recently-opened London Maggie’s), the late Kisho Kurokawa, Daniel Libeskind and Rem Koolhaas (designer of the forthcoming second Glasgow centre at Gartnavel Hospital). Gehry is also working on plans for a Hong Kong centre with Lily Jencks, daughter of Charles and Maggie.

Good design mattered to Maggie Keswick-Jencks, who met her husband while he was a teacher and she was a student at the world-renowned Architectural Association School of Architecture in London (AA).

Together, this handsome pair embarked on a highly creative journey together. She was a talented writer and designer and according to those who knew her, fused this creative fire with a talent for friendship and creating a happy home.

In the days and weeks leading to her death in July 1995 at the age of 52, she had completed a blueprint for the centre she had in her mind’s eye.

Spurred by dismay at her own experience in NHS ‘factories of health’ she stated the key to an effective cancer care centre was a homely, welcoming environment that allowed people affected by cancer to drop in unannounced and feel unthreatened.

On a warm spring morning outside the front door of the very first Maggie’s Centre, at Edinburgh’s Western General Infirmary, Jencks tells us how the building, a former stable block, came up after protracted negotiations with the NHS.

It was in a perfect spot, ‘in the hospital but not on it’, in a corner of the grounds, facing out to residential properties on one side and the Medical Oncology Unit on the other.

Despite their connections, the Jencks decided to use Edinburgh-based architect Richard Murphy, who had a strong reputation in converting existing properties or, as Jencks puts it ‘ in knitting together the old and new’.

“Maggie loved light and colour,” he adds. “There was good interaction between Richard and Maggie. She had written her brief and he responded, with a good bit of sparring along the way.”

Today, as it’s a Saturday, we are seeing it minus the people who give it its spirit, but we have centre head, Andy Anderson, to guide us through the building, which was extended in 1999, and its tranquil gardens.

Like all the staff we meet, Anderson speaks eloquently about the benefits of working in a building designed specifically for the people who are using it.

“This space is all about regaining a sense of control,” he says. “Everything in the diagnosis and treatment process happens in a confined space. This is all about getting you to realise there are others in the same situation. It’s about opportunities and pushing doors open.”

Maggie’s desire for a hearth and home approach works here. Daylight floods into the kitchen space and hall through ridge roof glass and each portion slips into the other. There are several hidden rooms and little outside areas for cancer sufferers to seek solace and become informed.

The walls are painted plasterboard and the metal beams in the conservatory extension are just above the head height. There are no windows facing out onto the Oncology Unit in this restful south facing room.

Internally, as in the other centres, a riot of coloured sofas and soft furnishings have been sourced by Maggie’s close friend Marsha Blakenham and the charity’s chief executive Laura Lees, her one-time cancer nurse. The effect is very homey.

Our allotted time span in Edinburgh over, we head out of the capital and over the Forth Road Bridge towards Dundee, where Gehry’s Maggie’s Centre, a Hansel and Gretel cottage meets Stevenson’s lighthouse, sits shining exuberantly in the sunlight.

The signature metal roof, based on the hat of a woman in a painting by the Dutch artist Vermeer, stands out against the stark modernity of Ninewells’ oncology unit further up the hill. As we stand before it for the first time, Jencks jokes that Gehry is prone to ‘psychotic’ outbursts and he went through several designs before declaring Maggie had come to him in a dream to say it was ‘getting too fancy’.
Here, Jencks paces around, reacquainting himself with the building. Despite being very different to the Edinburgh centre, it fulfils Maggie’s vision of having a welcoming information area, a country-style kitchen, views out to trees/grass/sky, small sitting rooms, quiet areas and non-NHS style bathrooms (‘private enough to have a cry’) and an outdoor space to share food and conversation.

Ever the critic, he gestures around the large meeting area. “I’ve always though there isn’t enough light in this room,” he declares.

At this point, a woman taking part in a CRUSE bereavement-counselling workshop approaches Jencks and grasps his hand. “I just want to say thank you,” she explains. “I have had cancer and I couldn’t have survived without this place. I cried buckets here. You have fulfilled your wife’s vision beautifully.”

He looks momentarily startled and you remember that behind the affable academic fa├žade is a man who may have turned negative into positive, but who lost his soul mate too soon.

After a buffet lunch, eaten on the plank-style wooden platform that juts out of the front of the building, we head to Kirkcaldy. For this leg, I am driven by Jencks, who talks en-route about his friendship with the feisty Iraqi-born Hadid, which stretches back to the days when he taught her at the AA in London. “She is a great swearer,” he laughs as Kirkcaldy hoves into view. “When Marsha and Laura met her to discuss the internal furnishings, she proclaimed, ‘I’m not having any f*****g Turkish carpets in here!’”

The Fife town’s Victoria Hospital may be in the throes of a £152m refurbishment, but the drive in to Hadid’s centre, which sits just off the car park in front of the main building, spells out gloom and despondency.

It is just the kind of picture of the NHS Maggie was trying to escape and thankfully, despite initial appearances, Hadid’s black space ship of a structure manages to fulfil her brief and blot it all out.

All is bright and welcoming inside with light filtering in from every area, including triangular skylights. From the large white kitchen table, which hits you immediately as you walk in, to the fruit teas lined up like a mini design statement on the white units, this space exudes calm. Round the corner, facing out past an impossibly cantilvered balustrade to greenery and a dell like area that has yet to be landscaped, are vivid pink sofas for and faux cow hide chairs for lounging.

Of all the centres, this is evidently the one of most architectural interest and our architects bend, peer and click their cameras, (making sure no-one is in the shot, of course), checking out the ramp connecting the main space to a lower platform in which a flexi-hall is situated. In the kitchen, the adjacent office can be made more private by swirling a bookcase round.

Hadid wanted people to be enveloped by the building and this happens here And, for the record, there are no Turkish carpets.

We all plonk ourselves down on the comfy Eames chairs to go over the events of the day with Jencks and Ruth McCabe, tea and biscuits to hand.

“I didn’t like the building at first,” she confides. “Now I love it. I could live here.”

Jencks tells McCabe we have asked staff at the other two centres to tell us what doesn’t work and they
both said there were problems with the entrance. In Edinburgh, the two doors meant staff couldn’t always see who was coming in to greet them while at Dundee, new visitors were said to be initially confused by where to go on entering.

“We don’t have that problem here,” she replies, citing the example of a woman who came in the previous week and made herself a cup of tea before sitting down, without saying much. “We talked to her a bit and still she didn’t say much, but she cried. The same thing happened the next day. It is easy to cry here.”

In a day that was meant to be about design, all the architects I spoke to on the way back to Edinburgh were most moved by the staff’s approach and the work being done at the centres. “You get the best out of people if the building is right,” reflects Daisy Reeves, a landscape architect with Skye-based practice Wittets. “It’s been fascinating to see how all each architects fulfilled the brief and came up with very different buildings. It’s such an obvious idea – and it works.”

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