Joan Edlis on The Maggie Centre

February 25, 2009

in Uncategorized

Comment on Bridget Rosewell’s review of The Maggie Centre

I, too, was visiting the hospital for a medical reason, with worry & anxiety just under the surface, and recalled your request (for further comment, ed.) as I came upon the Centre’s orange wall. I tried to observe much in the short time (less than a minute?) it took to walk the length along side of but outside the garden. I noted some Trachelospermum jasminoides spread over a metal grid intended to cover a blue(?) infrastructure of some kind, the previously mentioned expanse of mulch and perhaps a few (3-5?) standard trees, 9-10 cm girth, about 2.2m tall and leafless as is normal this time of year.

What did strike me strongly was the corporate or plaza-like sensation of the open space around what I presume is the Centre’s entrance, one lonely bench floating in the hard paving without any anchor of earth/plant or other definition which might derive from the paving, and finally the ‘meandering’ path dividing the mulched borders.

This is an incredibly difficult site – hospital access road on one side of this geometric elongated teardrop-shaped plot, paralleling Fulham Palace Road, an exceptionally busy roadway. The narrow entrance end of the site is also quite near the cross-over by the main entrance to the hospital. The issues of security, vandalism, installation and (hopefully) maintenance costs had to have been balanced with the design ideals of the champions of Maggie’s Place, the taste of the board members, the safety in selecting a ‘name’ (shades of the Diana Memorial Fountain debacle!) and finally the needs of the users.

I found it interesting on re-reading Bridget’s review that, while she observed formal elements of the garden and identified lack of hiddenness/privacy as a drawback, she failed to note what I would consider the fundamental weakness of this place – the path itself is meaningless within its context. How many times have we read about desire lines straightening out contrived curves? How many times have we cooed over the ‘surprise and delight’ (what an overused phrase) where a curving walk is supposed to hide and then reveal a destination, enhancing anticipation and delaying the satisfaction of arrival? The wiggly line here is simply weak.

This poor path has been force-fed far too many different design requirements to fulfill during the short experience of its life (it cannot take more than a minute or two for an able-bodied person to traverse its length). Even when the planted border will be at its height in 3-4 yrs time (if the plantings survive the pollution and the visitors) I cannot but think it will be subsumed into the municipal park mentality. The best future would be if the Centre itself takes over & subverts the design, putting unmatched tables & chairs where they are wanted and used, like the improvised displays of wreaths at accident sites or the placards in Parliament Square by Brian Haws. Or saves all the wretched hospital plants discarded by discharged patients and simply dotted them into the pristine planting. This would be a space truly (re)claimed by the public for its own.

One example of another site with a similar purpose is a student project in Seattle. Granted, this site has its advantages of being on a roof, but the disadvantages might make it equivalent to Maggie’s Centre: and a local press review

While the Seattle site is not my personal aesthetic I can see how it is a good solution – is it fair to compare students with a garden club budget to Dan Pearson with a mega budget?

I can’t help but wonder if the selection process itself is flawed – did you see the short-listed submissions for the John Madejski Garden at the V&A? I spent a long time looking at all the entries and could not see how any aesthetic decision could be arrived at without simply accepting someone’s taste as the hidden factor tipping the scales, as no one can predict how an executed plan will really work out. And this presumes that all the entries equally addressed non-aesthetic issues (cost, ease of installation, maintenance, longevity, etc, etc).

Joan Edlis Landscape website

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