Hanging gardens for Maggie’s Centre in Leeds

21 October 2020

The small plot earmarked for the Maggie’s Centre on the periphery of the University Hospital in Leeds had a six-metre incline and was the last green space on the site. The Heatherwick Studio architects designed a structure comprising three nested pavilions with accessible hanging gardens. The landscape architects drew inspiration from the nearby forests of Yorkshire and created a garden with native trees and shrubs. They were passionate about combining various plants and natural building materials to create an extraordinary place where visitors dealing with challenging stages of their illness can draw strength. Arranged over different levels, the pavilions provide an inviting, spacious interior that opens out onto new views on all sides. With its warm interior, integrated lighting and natural materials, the aim of the architecture is to be welcoming and help break down any psychological barriers the patients may have.

Workshops right up to the construction stage

The location of the plot, right on the access road to the emergency department, forced the planners to opt for a construction using entirely prefabricated elements to keep the assembly time to a minimum. The architects thus designed a structure comprising prefabricated timber elements that could be assembled on a concrete slab with minimal disruption to the running of the hospital. To support the roof, the design also included corbel-style wooden fins spanning the three pavilions. The planners turned to the Free Form team at Blumer-Lehmann AG for the implementation.

‘We first joined the consultation process in March 2017,’ recalls Mathias Marti, project manager at Blumer Lehmann. ‘We then held workshops with the architects and other specialists to work on the design together until it was ready for construction.’ In keeping with many previous projects, the Blumer Lehmann team developed the plans for the supporting structure together with the engineers at SJB Kempter Fitze AG. Naturally, the vast rooftop gardens with a significant load created by an 80 cm layer of plants and the anticipated tree growth presented a challenge.

Supporting structure with timber fins and columns

The timber fins are a prominent architectural feature, arranged in a star shape around the pavilions and connected with the wall elements to create a rigid corner. None of the 120 wooden corbels meets the wall at the same angle as the others, which meant an individual mitre cut was required for each wooden fin. A total of 240 laminated timber elements were milled in Switzerland for this purpose and stored until the assembly. The pavilions have rounded corners and were also prefabricated in our Swiss production halls in timber frame construction. In addition, all installations were already integrated into the 24 wall elements or prepared beforehand.

For fire safety reasons and the aesthetics of the materials, the planning team switched from the originally planned steel columns to slim wooden columns in BauBuche (engineered beech). The 27 round columns with a diameter of 200 mm were up to 7 m in length and were treated in Switzerland with white-pigmented oil. The free-form staircases were also prefabricated in-house by Blumer Lehmann using beech. A total of 90 m³ of spruce wood was used for the fins and wall elements and 6 m³ of beech for the staircases and columns.

The architects weren’t the only ones to feel privileged to work on a Maggie’s Centre. The construction was a quite special project for the Blumer Lehmann team as well. ‘The Maggie’s Centre was financed through a thousand small donations,’ recalls Mathias Marti. ‘It was amazing how so many people helped create a supportive atmosphere for cancer patients.’

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