For any architect, the invitation to design a Maggie's Centre is an honour. Charles Jencks, the venerable architecture theorist and his late wife Maggie founded the cancer centres in 1993 after Maggie contracted the disease and wanted a place where she and fellow sufferers could go for support beyond hospital walls.

Maggie passed away in 1995, but since then Jencks has called upon the world's best architects from Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry to Piers Gough and Richard Rogers, to design Maggie's Centres across the UK and abroad.  

This week, the UK's sixteenth Maggie's opens in Newcastle. Designed by venerable British architect Ted Cullinan, it sits between two post-war buildings within the grounds of the Freeman Hospital and is 'designed to be a little paradise', according to Cullinan. It has the usual pre-requisites of every Maggie's: a library stocking everything from encyclopedias to The Beano, counseling rooms, exercise studios and a communal kitchen where visitors can prepare food together.

In addition, Cullinan, who has been shaping the British landscape with his pioneering sustainable style long before it was ever fashionable - and won endless awards for it - has created a space that is 'almost self sufficient' energy-wise. It is built predominantly from beech, has a grass roof and solar panels. Giant windows look on to a south-facing courtyard and the centre is enclosed by beech hedges and grassy banks, planted with wild flowers, which visitors can tend.  

'Maggie's Centres attract people from all walks of life who have experienced cancer at any stage, from diagnosis to end of life, but 80 per cent of visitors are women,' says Cullinan. Part of his brief was to attract more men so he kitted out the roof with gym and fitness equipment. 'The idea is to create a place that feels like a home rather than an institution. It was a compliment to be chosen (by Jencks),' says Cullinan, who, like all his predecessors, did the design drawings for free. 'It was extremely rewarding. Everyone at Maggie's is committed to the cause.'

TAGS: BRITISH ARCHITECTURE, HEALTHCARE ARCHITECTURE