Maggie's biophilic cancer center in Leeds by Thomas Heatherwick

The latest work of the British Thomas Heatherwick seems to finally erase the border between architecture and landscape design. Wild Yorkshire plants serve as an eco-envelope for the new Maggie's Cancer Center building at Leeds University Hospital.

PRAGMATIKA previously reported how the initiative of landscape designer Maggie Keswick-Jenks upon the creation of a network established to provide psychological support to cancer patients and their families, a kind of relay race with the participation of star architects began. The center in Leeds became the first building in Heatherwick Studio's practice, designed for the healthcare sector.

The new Maggie's Center in Leeds, built on the project of Heatherwick Studio and Balston Agius, is immersed in greenery. Photo: Hufton + Crow

Three mushroom-shaped volumes made of prefabricated wooden CLT-panels (outside covered with breathable lime plaster) on a frame made of spruce wood. Volumes of different heights (from 1 to 3 floors) are united by a central atrium. Their roofs partially cover each other, forming a series of internal and external balconies-terraces.

The interiors of the common spaces of the Magg Center in Leeds are emphatically informal. Photo: Hufton + Crow

Niches with groups of soft furniture are peculiar open offices, which are intended both for relaxation and for conducting consultative conversations with oncologists and psychologists. Photo: Hufton + Crow

Curved wooden beams, which serve as supports for terraces, emphasize the biophilic nature of the design even more - they resemble lamellae of lamellar mushrooms. Heatherwick tried to move away from traditional hospital architecture and interiors as much as possible.

"Using only natural, ecologically clean materials and immersing the building in thousands of plants, we have created an extraordinary environment capable of instilling hope in visitors during their difficult struggle with the disease" - assured Thomas Heatherwick

The studio also developed the design of large tables with a cork oak bark covering especially for Magga's center. The general space of the atrium, dining room and offices is maximally saturated with plants - arranged in tubs on the stairs and in niches, winding along the walls and pillars.

A staircase of a complex configuration with built-in lighting under the steps connects the three floors of the building. Photo: Hufton + Crow

The open kitchen-dining room gives visitors and employees the opportunity to prepare coffee or heat up lunch on their own. Photo: Hufton + Crow

Lush greenery envelops the building from the outside, using lamella beams as supports for garden pergolas. Heatherwick's partners in this project were the landscape architects of the Balston Agius studio. They selected endemic plants from the Yorkshire woodlands for the external gardens of the Maggie's Centre. The diverse and dense planting includes evergreen shrubs, thanks to which the building will retain its green frame even in winter. And many ephemeroids, field grasses and deciduous plants will make the picture of the garden dynamic - it will constantly change, following the seasons.

Panoramic glazing ensures interpenetration of external and internal spaces. Photo: Hufton + Crow


Despite the pandemic, the Maggie's Center in Leeds has remained open to cancer patients, their friends and families. Even in the conditions of a strict quarantine, national and city officials and the administration of the university campus found it unacceptable to leave patients without support.