I–and Vanessa and Deepa–went to a double-bill talk a few days back. The speaker who took the bulk of time, Cameron Sinclair, works for an outfit called Architecture for Humanity. I will breeze past him for the moment, as the second speaker, Lily Jencks, was a bit more topical.
Jencks (yes, the daughter of the ‘father of post-modernism,’ Charles Jencks) came to talk about a network of “care centers” that she has supervised building, whose first building opened in 1995. Each of them (at present there are seven) sits outside a huge National Health Services (NHS) oncology center for intensive cancer treatment. Apparently, the NHS is the third largest employer in the world, after the Chinese army and the Indian railroad. The average patient sees a doctor for roughly 3 minutes, and coziness is not part of the NHS package. Design is, basically, a frill. Not so for the care center!
The care centers–known by the program as “Maggie’s”–are intended to be “open to anyone affected by cancer.” whether patient, family, friend, or even the odd doctor or nurse who is going stir-crazy in the clinical vibe of the hospital. The upshot: it’s free, it’s comfortable and its atmosphere of well-being is not full of what the speaker called “anxiety, boredom and pictures of jaunty fishing boats.” Each center is situated in some sort of nice landscape–a glade, if available, or at least off the street and super-sunny, if it’s in the thick of London. And each has a lounge, an always-open accessible kitchen for tea, and staff that help with things like finances and counseling.
How does this relate to us? The healing of mind/body/spirit angle seemed attractive, and people seemed to relax. They seem to get a lot of benefit from the care and from the calm and breathing room, being in a space that was still within eyesight of where they/the patient gets treatment. I thought the centers seemed to disconnect a bit from the actual grounds–sure, they are located on “landscape,” but that seems a bit abstract, like viewing through a window, and not being IN the scene. I wondered why there were no scented gardens, vegetable patches, or places for people to immerse themselves in a plant world that is very much alive. I did note that the buildings were by and large designed by “starchitects,” and sometimes related landscapers, who may not put the grass-roots interaction at the top of their agenda.
Sinclair’s talk was very charismatic–someone next to me said it seemed to talk the talk of TED, a sort of high tech/ideas booster forum. I’ll leave specific comments about his projects to someone else, except to note that his planning and fund-raising abilities were pretty high-powered. (He seems to be using it also as a way to get architects jobs, given the slow state of the building market, and the surplus of young architects willing to work.) The overall theme of talks was supposed to be on “the role of non-profits in changing visions of design.” Brief cranky aside: I felt like I saw many examples of projects that worked through privatization when or because government failed to or declined to step in–the chronic budget cuts to outsourcing of the functions of the NHS and social safety net in the UK, and the careless relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina in the US, for example. While I appreciate the philanthropic effort, and the “one-year vacation” effort of volunteer architects in post-disaster areas that are off the grid, I would hate to see these projects as a substitute for public services and touted as the happy result of tax cuts to select tax brackets. End of rant.
I will leave you with a photo of the Plastiki, made by some of the AFH’s volunteers. This is a catamaran made of 12,500 plastic bottles that sailed from San Francisco to Sydney to highlight issues of throwaway culture, and the shipwreck of sustainability that occurs as debris leaves “plastic fingerprints” all over the ocean world.COMMENTS