Maggies Centre, Ninewells Dundee Frank Gehry Building

Maggies Centre, Ninewells Dundee, Frank Gehry Building, Cancer Care Fife

Maggies Dundee, Fife : Architecture Debate

Discussions on Current Architectural Topics

Maggies Centre Dundee

Deconstructing the deconstructivistsGehry
[mark chalmers]

I think perhaps everyone comes to the Maggies Centre at Ninewells in Dundee from a different angle : for what it’s worth, this quibble isn’t about aesthetics, rather the inappropriateness of the “style”of the building for its function, and also the approach taken to designing a respite centre. Many of us feel that a respite centre should be calm, a place of stillness and peace rather than embodying the restless geometries of the deconstructivists.

I clearly remember Doug Allard’s thesis scheme for a care centre on the same Ninewells site: he was still a student at Duncan of Jordanstone. His was a far
more sophisticated response to the users and the site: in terms of scale, the use of colour theory, formal harmony, the creation of quiet spaces, but certainly
not the outward expression of a “tourist attraction” that Gehry’s building has. Likewise, the Rachel Househospice in Kinross from ten years ago is fitter for purpose, as were Murphy’s Maggies in Edinburgh, and Page & Park’s Maggies in Glasgow: the early Maggies Centres seem to work better than the later ones.

Charles Jencks is the sponsor of the Maggies Centres, and he has exercised a powerful influence over their form. He is primarily a critic, who like Philip Johnson has had a chance to influence rather than just spectate in the creation of buildings. It could be said that his preoccupation with the jumping universe, as he calls quantum mechanics, has overtaken a genuine desire to make places for people.

Frank Gehry doesn’t build anything other than buildings which look like car crashes, so you could predict that the Dundeebuilding would look like this, if not even more extreme. In fact, Gehry recounted that messages from Maggie Keswick Jencks received in dreams told him to calm down the architecture. In quieter moments, you wonder whether the choice of Gehry was important in terms of fundraising, in other words, good for PR. However, how much “extra” fundraising was needed to pay for the baroque roof? Anecdotally, there were contractor comments about the complexity of making what was practically unbuildable, and that cost of the roof is obviously very high.

In terms of the forthcoming Inverness building, I had a look inside a few weeks prior to its delayed completion. All I’d say is that a building form generated in analogy to cell mitosis is surely not the most appropriate plan diagram, or more importantly symbol, for a cancer respite centre. Also, the interior seems to betray a lack of understanding of spatial perception, given you may already be contending with the disorientating effects of illness, coupled with the side-effects of chemo-therapy treatments.

The charge which I lay at the door of these buildings is that they are inhumane, because they fail to understand the needs of people. They are, paradoxically, tourist attractions, where visitors will disturb and rob the dignity of the terminally ill.

Link: Frank Gehry Architecture
Jun 2005

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Dundee Contemporary Arts
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Dundee Contemporary Arts

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