Intended for healthcare professionals


Maggie's Centres

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 21 December 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1304

This article has corrections. Please see:

  1. Edwin Heathcote, architecture critic
  1. 1Financial Times, London
  1. Correspondence to: edwinheathcote{at}

    There is something profoundly depressing about the spaces in which we experience our most momentous, traumatic, emotional, and joyous moments. Hospitals, the buildings in which we are born and sometimes experience the birth of our own children, in which we may die, and in which, as a rapidly ageing population, we will be spending an increasingly large proportion of our lives, are grim.

    It was the grinding spiritual and aesthetic poverty that spurred Maggie Keswick Jencks into thinking there must be an alternative. Her legacy is an extraordinary collection of centres throughout the United Kingdom that attempt to lift the soul not only through the sympathetic professional advice and listening of the trained oncology nurses who staff them but through architecture, through the redemptive power of space, light, and sculptural form.

    The power of imagination

    There are no great claims being made for this approach. Architecture does not and cannot heal cancer. Much research has linked views of trees, greenery, the sky, and natural light with quicker healing, but most of it is common sense: people feel better in nice spaces. I once heard a beautiful story. A man lies in a hospital bed but can't see out of the window at the end of the room so the fellow in the bed next to the window tells him all about what he sees. He tells him about the life on the street, the children playing, the girls walking by, the women hanging out their washing, about the traffic, the clouds and the changing weather. Dropping in and out of consciousness it is these images that keep him alive but sadly the occupant of the window bed dies. Though upset, his friend thinks at least he'll now get the bed by the window, which he does. He is amazed to see that the window …

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