His monumental work for the Guggenheim in Bilbao established FRANK GEHRY as one of the world’s most visionary architects. His first ever UK project, a cancer care centre in Dundee, is on a much more intimate scale but aims to be just as inspiring. Words: Ruth Hedges
12 THE LIST 18 Seep—2 Oct 2003
CAN THE FLAMBOYANT WORLD OF ARCHITECTURE PROVIDE BUILDINGS TO HELP PEOPLE WHO ARE SUFFERING?
t's the illness that we most fear. Silent and insidious. it emerges without reason or warning
and affects the lives ol‘ thousands of people in Britain every year. Test results coming back
with signs of malignant cells and devastating news broken in hospital rooms send peoples’ lives spinning out ol‘ control.
One woman. Maggie Keswick Jencks. received such news in 1993. Her treatment and counselling took place within lidinburgh’s Western (ieneral Hospital where she eventually died in l‘)‘)5. But between the time other diagnosis and death she created the blueprint l‘or a centre which would provide the kind of support for cancer patients that she believed was simply not possible within the context ol‘ a large institutional hospital building. The vision encapsulated a sense ol’ intimacy and security coupled with inspiration; an environment contributing to a state of mind that could best deal with the physical and emotional traumas of living with cancer.
And it just so happened that Maggie was married to a man called ('harles Jencks. the renowned architect and critic. His friends and contacts included international architectural megastars who could be called upon. it they so desired. to design a building with the hopes and purpose laid down by Maggie and add their badge of architectural honour to the project. So far the roll-call of names includes Richard Murphy and '/.aha Iladid while a Daniel l.ibeskind project is in development.
The third and tnost recent Maggie‘s (‘entre — the ﬁrst one opened in lidinburgh in l‘)‘)() —— is unveiled in Dundee this month. designed by Frank (iehry. the biggest and hottest star on the international architecture circuit. The 72-year-old ('alil‘ornian. whose legendary Bilbao Guggenheim stamped his mark onto our consciousness. has returned to more humble and domestic roots for his lirst L'K project.
'Maggie's (‘entres have to be informal and domestic and like a home.’ explains (‘harles Jencks. who has known (iehry since the early 70s. ‘Iimpowering the patient is the basic idea and you‘ve got to loosen people up to talk about their cancer. to pass on their experience. to tight together and bond in a certain sense too. “Where do I buy a wig now my hair‘s falling out with chemo‘." How do I tell my child‘.’ How do I tell my employer or my employees that I've got to leave?" All those endless social questions. The Dundee ('entre provides the intimate and