The curved, opaque glass building illuminated at night with sporadic coloured fragments on the façade.; The curved, opaque glass building illuminated at night with sporadic coloured fragments on the façade.;

Maggie's Barts, London

Luminous, playful and warm: design embodies core mission of Maggie’s Centres

With 5,500 new cancer diagnoses each year in the St Bartholomew’s Hospital catchment alone, pioneering charity Maggie’s needed a new centre in which to deliver their ground-breaking, holistic model of free cancer support. 

Built in the grounds of NHS hospitals with specialist cancer units, Maggie’s Centres provide free, practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their families. Good design is integral to the life of each centre, providing therapeutic environments in an intentionally domestic style.

The architectural concept for Maggie's Barts was ambitious: three serially nested vessels create a luminous visual aesthetic whilst complementing the building’s historical setting adjacent to London’s oldest hospital. Working with Steven Holl Architects, Arup produced the building’s bespoke engineering and façade design, helping to bring the ambitious vision to life. This vision – to create a single volume, column-free interior within a curved, soft-translucent glass façade – depended greatly on the team’s engineering innovation to execute it.

Reuniting the design team behind the award-winning Glasgow School of Art Reid Building (Arup and Steven Holl) proved to be a recipe for success. Through extensive collaboration, Arup ensured that the engineering was closely incorporated into the architecture throughout in order to bring the complex design to completion. 

Project Summary

5,500 cancer diagnoses a year in the Bart's catchment area

2017 Maggie’s Barts opened its doors

The three vessels concept

The building’s 'three vessel' concept provides a perforated concrete wrap to the building, cloaked within a bespoke, curved translucent façade. These two vessels enclose a third, bamboo-lined interior and floating circulation route, creating an open and welcoming space. The lantern-like building provides a soft, luminous visual aesthetic in complementary contrast to the adjacent Grade I Listed Bart’s Great Hall.

The three-storey concrete frame branches and its complex geometry provides the supporting core element of the three ‘vessels’. The wrap’s stiffening effect allowed the large central space to be column-free. We achieved this by developing an in-situ concrete solution of varying vertical lines and curved corners, accommodating significant voids and spans of 15x10m.

From a watercolour to a living, breathing building

Holl used watercolours to convey his ideas; the challenge was turning these visions into a buildable façade that would complement its location. At the outset, it was by no means certain that the design could be built.

The historic buildings of St Bartholomew’s inspired the pioneering façade which is based on neume notation; a medieval method of writing music down (taken from the Greek 'pneuma' or, appropriately, ‘vital force’). The striking façade echoes this notation: an opaque façade, pocketed with coloured fragments which glow at night and flood the interior with changing light throughout the day.

The use of translucent Okalux in curved, insulated glass panels was a world-first challenge. The project’s inclined geometry also pushed the tolerance limits of the curved units. No standard approach exists for combining temperatures (from thermal stress analysis) and stresses (from changes in atmospheric pressure) so we developed an approach, using both commercially available and in-house scripts to resolve the structural, geometrical and thermal complexities of the façade.

Simplifying the design

We optimised the design throughout the project stages; for cost, ease of fabrication and durability. The curved corners of the concrete structure were rationalised to achieve a constant radius. Single-radius and flat-glass units were used where possible to create the required aesthetic with minimal impact on the architecture. A visual mock-up was built on site which confirmed the cost and identified where conflicts lay between unique components and varying production methods.

Flowing and open spaces

The open, curved concrete staircase provides an engaging focal point whilst seamlessly linking the different levels. The staircase was formed monolithically with the concrete frame, point-connected to the branched wrap from which it cantilevers. In keeping with the interior design, it is finished with thin planar cantilevering bamboo balustrades, designed and tested by Arup.

As the number of people living with cancer increases, so does the need for practical and emotional support. The new centre’s open-plan social areas and counselling rooms create a relaxed and serene atmosphere, aiding the special support Maggie’s provides.

Find out more about our work in healthcare

Delivering the architect’s vision called for a unique partnership of designers and constructors to meet the challenge. The end result is an outstanding testament to their combined skill ” Chris Watson Property Director for Maggie's


IStructE Yorkshire Awards – Large Project of the Year
AJ100 Executive Architect of the Year
Dezeen’s Hospitality Building of the Year Award
Society of Façade Engineering (SFE) Awards – Innovation Project of the Year