A Cultural Reading of Architecture:
Frank Gehry's “Maggie's Centre” in Dundee, Scotland
The cancer care unit “Maggie's Centre” in Dundee was the first British building to be designed by the world-famous architect Frank Gehry. The building, inaugurated in 2003, is situated on a hill of the outskirts of the Scottish city Dundee. The postmodern architect Gehry tried to let form support and complement the function in order to make this unit for cancer patients as liveable and comfortable as possible. As a result, the inclusion of aesthetics as well as social meaning make the building a great object for a cultural reading. First of all, I will supply a brief overview of important architectural features of the “Maggie's Centre”. Subsequently, these features will be used to attempt a cultural reading of the building.
To start with, a “Maggie's Centre” is a daycare centre for people who suffer from cancer and seek support. Out of a list of ten commissioned “Maggie's Centres”, Gehry was asked to design the third building located in Dundee. He got the job because he used to be a friend of the late Maggie Keswick Jenk, who had died of cancer. As people in modern societies get older and living conditions permanently change, cancer is diagnosed more often. In response to this, the “Maggie's Centre” should be a friendly and homely place that facilitates the opportunity for people, who are afflicted by cancer, to meet others. Visitors can share ideas and get information not only about the disease, but about life and different life-styles. In contrast to other, already existing, facilities like hospitals, the support centre should create a personal and homely atmosphere.
Gehry designed the building overlooking the Scottish landscape and the river Tay. Conveniently, I will concentrate on three key elements: The house, the tower and the interior of the house. Firstly, there is the main house, which is sheltered by a huge, asymmetrically creased roof. Striking, is the variety of different forms and shapes of the walls and the roof elements. Some parts of the roof have pointed edges, some rounder forms, every bit completely different from the other. As a result, due to the lack of right angles, the building looks very dynamic. The latticework is built from pine and plywood and finished with stainless-steel shingles. The wood also frames the windows, as well as it is used for the hand rails and benches. The second main part of the “Maggie's Centre” is a big white tower next to the house. As its opening faces the Tay it might resemble a lighthouse. Additionally, it has aspects of a look-out tower, as from it visitors have a beautiful view on the Scottish landscape. The walls of the round tower are painted white, like the walls of the house. The side of the building that faces the valley is characterised by many huge windows, creating a place of light inside the building. Thirdly, there is the interior of the “Maggie's Centre”. Inside the building, unlike other institutional care stations, there are facilities like a kitchen and a library open for everyone. The furniture in the kitchen and library as well as the floor are mainly constructed from the same wood used for the roof. The rooms are designed very open and as the windows are big, all rooms are quite bright. The dynamically curving roof can also be seen from the inside, further connecting the rooms from above. Only few doors can be seen inside the house, most of them are made out of glass so that people can look through them.
I will base my cultural reading of the “Maggie's Centre” in Dundee on two main aspects of possible perceptions of the building. To start with, it will be shown how different features of the form of the building fit into the environmental context of the landscape in order to create a link between the building and nature around. Afterwards, the social dimensions and functions of the building as a “care centre” will be discussed.
The architect Gehry is known for his attempts to design buildings in consideration of their surroundings. This can be perfectly seen in the “Maggie's Centre”. As already mentioned before, the care unit is situated on a hill overlooking the Scottish landscape. The tower faces the valley where the river Tay passes through. If you look at the centre, especially from above, you can see that the roof bends and curves itself like a resemblance of a streaming river. The roof, so dynamically bent, connects, partly even merges the building with the landscape around. The steel-shingles reflect the sun and on better days visitors can even see the reflection of clouds drifting by. Gehry's usage of wood connects the building to the forest nearby. Wood is used in many diverse ways, incorporating a natural element into the building. All the benches outside are also built out of wood, connecting the inner part of the building with the 'outside'. Furthermore, the colours of the building are reduced to the white of the walls, brown wood and the steel-shingles that reflect the colours of nature around the building. Lastly, due to many big windows the “Maggie's Centre” is literally open to the landscape around. Light can freely flow through the rooms and from inside you have a great look on the Scottish landscape.
In my opinion, the most important aspect of Gehry's “Maggie's Centre” is its social function as a cancer care centre. As indicated before, it is an independently-run place, where you go for a chat and a bit of advice, from knowledgeable people or other patients. The interior decoration supports this meeting of many different people. In the open kitchen area visitors can easily and non-committally come together. As a result of cooking and eating together, people can easily feel 'at home'. In opposition to conventional care units you can come and go whenever you want. There is no pressure or any kind of obligation on the patients and visitors. Additionally, the library is a space to get information or just browse through different books. An 'open' atmosphere is realised through the open rooms and the few doors. The fact that the rooms are connected and not explicitly separated from each other promote a friendly atmosphere, which can devolve upon the visitors. A staircase leads the patients in search for a quieter atmosphere to the upper floor of the house. Here are more private rooms for people who seek a more private atmosphere. As a result of the amount of glass used for doors and windows the rooms are bright and look like they radiate energy. This casting forth of positivity and energy is a very important point in Maggie Keswick's philosophy. Before her death she wanted to create buildings that encourage people who are diagnosed with cancer rather than putting a negative stamp on them. “Maggie's Centre” should be a place of light and happiness, opposing the dark rooms that are linked to the often problematic National Health System. Visitors should be given new hope and perspectives.
- Quote paper
- M.Ed. Markus Emerson (Author), 2010, A Cultural Reading of Architecture. Frank Gehry's “Maggie's Centre” in Dundee, Scotland, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/310552