Maggie’s Centres were established to offer a safe and welcoming place for people affected by cancer, where they can receive practical and emotional support to lift their spirits and to draw on hidden strengths. There are now 21 centres, all built in the grounds of NHS cancer hospitals, and one of the latest, designed by architect dRMM, is in Oldham. Free services offered to cancer sufferers and their families range from psychological support to benefits advice, nutrition workshops, art therapy and yoga.
To the architect, Maggie’s Oldham is a deliberate exemplar of how to create a fresh, uplifting and caring environment while eliminating the use of harmful materials. As director Alex de Rijke explains: ‘The use of wood at Maggie’s Oldham is part of a bigger design intention to reverse the norms of hospital architecture, where clinical institutionalised environments can make patients feel dispirited. In wood there is hope, humanity, scale and warmth. Maggie’s Oldham is a carefully made manifesto for the architecture of health, realised in wood.’
Skillfully positioned between the traditional red brick buildings of Oldham Royal Hospital, the centre is a simple single-storey enclosure in plan. The site has a dramatic change of level and the architect has raised the building up on slender columns to create level access, by means of a ramped bridge, from the road and from the NHS Victoria Breast Care Unit. From here there are great views of the Pennine hills and the north wall is fully glazed to make the most of this. The raised position also ensures that the interior is not overlooked and is a private space. The interior is largely open plan, with small consulting rooms, toilets and seating niches along the east wall, a kitchen and dining area on the west wall and, emerging from its centre, a magnificent asymmetric tube of glass, its curved walls enclosing a specially planted birch tree which rises from the undercroft.
The south wall has a covered terrace with a staircase leading down to a garden where people can sit outside or grow food in a large greenhouse.
The building is pioneering in its use of timber. It is the world’s first hardwood cross-laminated timber (CLT) building, using sustainable American tulipwood, which has a higher strength and lighter mass than spruce or pine CLT. The external cladding, internal structural walls, floor and roof, the ceiling and all the furniture are made of timber.
The timber structure
The centre is a single storey box structure (25.5 x 13.5 metres) raised four metres above the ground on six slender steel columns, overhanging them to create significant cantilevers, some of five metres. Minimising the weight of the building was important and engineered timber, with its excellent strength to weight ratio, was dRMM’s go-to choice. A steel frame connects the columns, infilled with traditional timber joists to form the floor. This supports the walls, large panels of exposed tulipwood cross-laminated timber (CLT) which in turn support the roof, giving resistance against wind uplift pressures and lateral stability to the box structure. The roof consists of Kerto LVL (laminated veneer lumber) beams at 400mm centres spanning up to 10 metres.
The building superstructure was so light that the structural engineer Booth King was challenged to design connections which would resist the combined forces of uplift and tension due to racking. The company worked with the German timber subcontractor to make the best use of the excellent strength of tulipwood and to ensure that all timber connections were viable but also concealed.
The timber elements of the building superstructure were almost entirely prefabricated and the steelwork was delivered with all preformed and trimmed service penetrations. As a result the building took only eight weeks to erect on site, in an overall construction programme of 63 weeks.
The external cladding
The building is clad with profiled tonged and grooved, thermally modified tulipwood boards. The thermal modification process significantly improves the durability of the tulipwood for external exposure. The 100 x 32mm boards are secret-fixed vertically to horizontal battens which are shaped to allow rainwater to drain into the cavity created by the counter-battens. The cladding is supported by a 100mm insulated stud wall with additional 200mm wood fibre insulation between it and the CLT panels.
At the south end of the building, the tulipwood cladding continues at each end of the terrace in the form of a row of tulipwood posts, which act as guard and screen. The posts are strengthened by concealed steel flitch plates which act compositely with the tulipwood to create a secure and safe structure.
The timber interior
The walls of the centre are of 100mm thick tulipwood cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels, exposed on the inside to create a warm and tactile space. Some walls are curved and were prefabricated at the Züblin Timber plant using vacuum press technology.
The CLT wall panels came to site prefabricated with recessed door surrounds to avoid the addition of formal door architraves, with rebates for door hinges and with all service penetrations. The slatted ceiling was created from wood left over from the CLT fabrication process, ensuring no waste.
As those undergoing chemotherapy sometimes feel pain on touching cold objects, timber was used wherever possible. There are oak rather than metal door handles on doors and cupboard doors, and even a birch handle on the Scandinavian kettle.
To the architect it was essential for the centre to be sustainable, with a low carbon footprint and energy requirement. The building itself is light and airy, with a shallow floor plan to make the most of natural ventilation and light throughout the year, and with high levels of insulation to reduce the operational energy requirement. The roof overhang to the south shades from the interior from high angle sun in the summer, keeping it cool, while allowing low angle sunlight to enter the building in winter.
To achieve a minimal embodied carbon footprint, timber was the obvious choice. The tulipwood is FSC-certified from sustainably managed forests in the US. Tulipwood, which accounts for 7.7 per cent of the total US hardwood stock, is growing by 32.5 million m3/per year while the harvest is only 12.8 million m3 per year. It is, therefore a very sustainable timber as it is consistently replenished. Maggie’s Oldham contains 27.6 m3 of American tulipwood, equivalent to around 55 m3 of sawn wood before processing. This comes from around 116 m3 of logs, and of which will be replaced in just 108 seconds1. American white oak was used for the large window frames, with wood fibre insulation within the walls.
An underfloor heating system has been installed for comfort and to optimise the efficiency of the condensing boiler. To ensure excellent year-round air quality, holes in cupboards at high level provide background ventilation, adjustable by the user. During summer months, the large sliding windows can be opened up to allow greater air movement through the space.
1 Data supplied by The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC)
2018 RIBA National Award, Winner
2018 Health Category, The Plan Awards, Winner
2018 Building of the Year, RIBA North West Awards, Winner
2018 Project Architect of the Year, RIBA North West Awards, Winner
2018 Sustainability Award, RIBA NW Awards, Winner
2018 RIBA North West Award, Winner
2018 Healthcare Centre of the Year, Frame Awards, Winner
2018 Healthcare Project of the Year, Offsite Construction Awards, Winner
2018 Healthcare Building of the Year, ArchDaily Awards, Shortlisted
2017 Public Sector Category, Wood Awards, Winner
2017 Healthcare Project of the Year, Structural Timber Awards, Winner
2017 Building Project of the Year, NWR Construction Awards, Winner
2017 Architect of the Year, Structural Timber Awards, Highly Commended
2017 Project of the Year, Structural Timber Awards, Shortlisted
2017 Client of the Year, Structural Timber Awards, Shortlisted
2017 Building of the Year Award, GMCC, Shortlisted
© Alex de Rijke
June 2017Building type:
Cancer support centreLocation:
Oldham, Greater ManchesterClient:
The Maggie Keswick Jencks Cancer Caring Centres TrustArchitect:
Booth KingBuilding services engineer:
Atelier TenMain contractor:
F ParkinsonStructural timber subcontractor:
Züblin Timber, GermanyTulipwood supplier:
Middle Tennessee Lumber, USAMachine profiling of tulipwood cladding:
Uncommon ProjectsTimber elements:
structure, cladding, windows and doors, internal soffitTimber species:
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