Maggie’s Leeds takes biophilia further by encouraging visitors to actively participate in caring for the on-site plants – an activity that’s reportedly beneficial to mental and physical health.

A tree pierces through the centre of Maggie’s Oldham, a 2018 Frame Award-winning project by DRMM. The latest Maggie’s centre, in Leeds, is almost completely enveloped by greenery. Not only that, but the interior of the Heatherwick Studio-designed building could almost pass for the hollow of a tree trunk (if that tree trunk was as precisely carved as a Heatherwick space is). These, as well as the string of others before and between, are proof that Maggie’s centres aren’t your average health care facilities.

The concept was developed by Charles Jencks, whose wife Maggie died of cancer in 1993. Since the launch of the first Maggie’s centre at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital, where Maggie was treated, dozens more have cropped up not only across the UK but as far away as Barcelona and Tokyo. The common thread? Impactful architecture, often by high-profile designers: Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Ab Rogers to name a few. More specifically, Jencks believes that his buildings – places where people with cancer and their friends and families can go to find free practical and emotional support – can contribute to the wellbeing of their patients.

With evidence mounting of the positive impacts of biophilic design on both our physical and psychological wellbeing, it’s no surprise that Heatherwick Studio opted for an overwhelmingly plant-infused approach for the new centre in Leeds. Not only plant-infused, either, but plant-inspired: the architecture was conceived as a group of three large-scale planters, with sectional views of the building revealing its almost forest-like form. Each enclosing a counselling room, the ‘planters’, surround the kitchen – the so-called heart of the home and thus the heart of Maggie’s, each of which is designed to be domestic in scale.

Maggie’s Leeds takes the connection with nature a step further by encouraging visitors to actively participate in caring for the on-site plants, many of which are within the rooftop garden designed by Balston Agius. As Richard Thompson writes in an article published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information: ‘There is increasing evidence that exposure to plants and green space, and particularly to gardening, is beneficial to mental and physical health . . . Health professionals should therefore encourage their patients to make use of green space and to work in gardens, and should pressure local authorities to increase open spaces and the number of trees, thus also helping to counteract air pollution and climate change.’ Holistic health, indeed.