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Nurturing Nature: Marie Curie Cancer Care Centre by Allen Tod Architecture

Bradford, England: Sensitive architecture and therapeutic landscapes promote a sense of well being for a new hospice in Yorkshire.

by Kristen Richards
May 15, 2002

London- and Leeds-based Allen Tod Architecture has successfully integrated “nature” and “nurture” for the new Marie Curie Cancer Care Centre in Yorkshire, England. The £5.2 million, 3,400-square-meter complex replaces an older facility (the hospice was established in 1948). The new center meets the high-tech needs of a specialist medical facility and offers a holistic approach in a welcoming environment for in-patient, day-patient, and outpatient care.


Research shows that contact with nature can be beneficial to recovery from illness and can enhance general physical and emotional well being not only for patients, but visiting friends and relatives, and health care staff as well. Allen Tod brought to the project knowledge of the latest research into the vital role nature and landscape play in healthcare through a partnership with Swedish landscape architect, Professor Pär Gustafsson.


The design consists of two linked buildings set on the plateau of a steeply sloping site. Natural stone and slate establish the relationship between the building and nature. A series of landscaped spaces that are integrated with the building to provide a varied, stimulating environment. The center sits amongst lawns, shrubs, flowers, and ponds, with tranquil spaces and spectacular views over the city of Bradford. The landscape includes a courtyard, a serene walled garden with a water feature centerpiece, and raised planting beds that provide opportunities for active and passive horticultural therapy.


The central courtyard offers a simple calm palette of materials including stone, water, and bamboo. The space is accessible from circulation links and the dining room, and connects via a pathway to the walled garden beyond.


Functions of the landscape range from passive – contemplative, peaceful environments – to more active tasks such as outside dining, children’s play areas, and working gardens for patient therapy.


The “working with nature” theme extends into the hospice itself. The U-shaped, predominantly one-story building has a central circulation route, punctuated by a series of light, airy, and open spaces with views onto the garden and the panorama of the city beyond. Glazed screens and generous windows in communal spaces allow views out to the gardens and landscape surrounding the building.


Andrew May, Allen Tod director, says: “Coordinating the building and landscape environment was of paramount importance in creating a welcoming and comforting environment, and it reflects the holistic care provided by the hospice.”


The nature theme is continued within the building through artworks provided by the Yorkshire Craft Centre in Bradford. A series of fabric hangings incorporating stylized leaf forms are suspended within lanterns (like glass-enclosed “turrets”), softening the structure and drawing the eye upwards. In addition, a ceramic wall mural adds a stimulating and tactile diversion to an internal corridor. Natural, green foliage gives the modern, spacious areas a “home-away-from-home” feel.


Each of the 16 in-patients rooms has a view from the beds, and access to a garden; each room opens onto a terrace where a patient can walk out, use a wheelchair, or even have their bed placed. The complex also provides resources for day therapy patients, and houses the charity’s local fundraising team and education center.


The design team’s brief included creating an environment that would contribute to the hospice’s spiritual care as well as serve the community’s wide-ranging spiritual needs. During the design stage, representatives from Marie Curie and Allen Tod consulted with the Interfaith Education Centre in Bradford, which advises and supports the community on religious and cultural issues.


Located within the complex is a multi-faith worship room a non-denominational space that provides opportunities for public or private solace, meditation, and worship. The design is based on the concept of a pair of protective, enveloping hands; the curved exterior walls are copper panels that almost meet and are linked by tapered “fingers” of glass. "The walls are clad in pre-patinated copper, which accelerates the natural weathering process of copper and results in the familiar green patina effect," says Mays


A stained glass window, depicting stylized natural forms and suggesting a sense of regeneration and growth, forms the translucent “fingers” that fill the chapel with muted tones of natural light during the day and glows from within at night. The glass, designed by Vanessa Scarth of the Yorkshire Craft Centre, adds to the spirituality of the space with soothing colors and images from nature. The center also includes a Muslim prayer room with adjoining washing facilities. 


Centre Director Sheena Bradley says: “We’re delighted with how Allen Tod has been mindful to create the internal and external spaces of this special center with its beautiful views and landscape. The needs of our patients and their families also extend to the multi-faith worship room and its design, which reflects the comfort and support that religion and faith bring to some people. Many patients come to us at the last stage of their lives, and being able to provide them with a soothing environment in which they can pray, think, and meditate is very important.”      


The center opened in September 2001. Within days, patients, staff, and families praised the hospice for its five-star accommodation, facilities, and spaciousness. In addition, its homey feel is regarded as a particular benefit and comfort to those receiving treatment.


Client: Marie Curie Cancer Care

Architect and Lead Consultant: Allen Tod Architecture Ltd

Quantity Surveyors: Rex Procter and Partners

Structural and Services Engineers: Buro Happold

Main Contractor: Totty Construction

Landscape Consultant: Professor Par Gustafsson

Photography: Chris North Photography


Founded in 1977, Allen Tod Architecture is a practice with offices in Leeds and London. Founders Ian Tod and Nick Allen head a team of 20 with fellow directors Bill Best, Simon Gedye, Andrew May, and Matthew Eyles. The team’s strengths, expertise, and commitment lie in delivering what the firm refers to as “people projects” that include regeneration, master planning, health, housing, arts and culture, leisure, and conservation projects. The practice has scooped a number of awards and nominations for pioneering regeneration projects. Services include architecture, urban design, landscape, project management, and conservation.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

(Chris North Photography)
The Marie Curie Cancer Care Centre sits atop a plateau overlooking the city of Bradford.

(Chris North Photography)
A focal point is a courtyard and walled garden with a peaceful pond.

(Chris North Photography)
A generous bay window in one of the common rooms offers panoramic views.

(Chris North Photography)
Patients have full access to the garden from terraces outside of each room.

(Chris North Photography)
A garden terrace at night.

(Chris North Photography)
The multi-faith worship room, or chapel, is clad in copper with tapered "fingers" of glass, like enveloping, protective hands.

(Chris North Photography)
Detail of the chapel and stained glass windows by Vanessa Scarth.

(Chris North Photography)
The stained glass suggests regeneration and growth.

Floor plan

© 2002