Speaking on Monday at the opening of OMA's first permanent built work in the UK, Maggie's Gartnavel in Glasgow, Rem Koolhaas admitted that the project - a centre providing emotional support and practical advice to people living with cancer - was a deeply personal undertaking for him, given his close friendship with Maggie's Centres founders, Maggie Keswick Jencks and Charles Jencks.
Koolhaas also wryly described the new centre as introducing a bit of 'romance' into the 'excessively gloomy' surrounding Scottish landscape, in this case a sprawling concrete jumble of dreary hospital buildings. And on this occasion the OMA founding partner's cheeky assertion is spot-on: Maggie's Gartnavel is a genuine architectural oasis.
Designed on a single level in the form of a ring of interlocking rooms embracing an internal landscaped courtyard, the building's glass, concrete and steel form has all the pared-down elegance of the Barcelona Pavilion, Mies van der Rohe's modernist masterpiece. But there are no Miesian hard edges, cold marble and metallic surfaces in OMA's palette. Instead these have been smoothed, rounded and replaced by warm natural beech ceilings and buffered concrete floors and walls, almost velvety to the touch.
The landscaping of the internal courtyard and surrounding sheltered glades is no bit player in the building/site relationship. Designed by Lily Jencks, daughter of Maggie and Charles Jencks, real and reflected views of the flickering leaves of the young silver birches and woodland inspired plantings penetrate deep into the building, creating a sense of intimacy and escape - an element that is central to the success of the building according to OMA Partner Ellen van Loon.
'The site is very important,' she nods. 'We chose this particular site not simply because of its close proximity to the hospital's cancer institute, but because of the surrounding landscape. It's a little piece of beautiful Scottish landscape, a bit raw, but it is central to the design, as we always envisaged this as "a house in a forest". And Lily has done an amazing job, as we even succeeded in extending the landscape further than it was before.'
According to van Loon, Maggie's Gartnavel has been essentially designed as a 'home away from home'. 'We approached the project from a very human level,' she says. 'It's a cancer centre so it was important to create a homely environment. The hospital is quite a depressing place - it's very clinical. So for us it was important to design a house. It's a domestic scheme, with a kitchen, living areas and library. In fact a lot of people that have already visited the building have said that they would move in tomorrow! And that's the effect we wanted to create. We wanted to create a living space, not a clinical space. It's really meant to be a very comfortable villa.'
OMA's 'comfortable villa' is already being described as a benchmark in terms of Maggie's buildings, which is no small achievement with designs by the likes of
Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry already occupying the Scottish Maggie's Centre landscape. Still, there is a sense that the ante has been upped with Maggie's Gartnavel, especially in terms of giving tangible form to that most elusive of concepts - the 'nurturing' environment.
'I think for us, atmosphere is one of the most important things about a building,' concludes van Loon over post-launch party canapés. 'And in practical terms, the most sustainable thing that you can do as an architect is to make a building that people love.'
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