Maggie’s cancer centre in Oldham: a balm for the senses

By Rowan Moore

This, the 21st of the cancer centres begun by Maggie Keswick-Jencks, stays true to the group's founding mission to create spaces of calm and light to help support patients and their families

If you're lucky enough not to have had chemotherapy, you may not know much about one of its side-effects, neutropenia. Among other things, it can make it unpleasant to touch the cold surfaces common in hospitals or the standard grab rails and handles, in thick white tubes of steel or plastic, which are ubiquitous in disabled lavatories. Even if you don't have this condition you might still dislike the insistent message of this paraphernalia: YOU ARE ILL. YOU ARE DISABLED. YOU MUST THEREFORE LIVE IN A WORLD OF UGLINESS. Even if you are able bodied and healthy, you might express a suppressed wish for a little sensory delight in the parts of a building that you touch.

But a voice will tell you that you can't expect anything better, that you are in a place of medicine and this is how things have to be. Unless you are in the new Maggie's cancer centre in Oldham, where the architects dRMM have found a way to make these small necessities out of wood. It has a modest but profound effect in achieving the calmness the building seeks. It makes what is usually an assemblage of equipment into a space.

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