RIBA Regional Award 2012 (Wales), Stirling Prize nomination
Maggie’s South West Wales (MSWW) occupies a glorious elevated site overlooking Swansea Bay, adjacent to mature woodland at the NW corner of the Singleton Hospital campus, Swansea. This project has been spatially and materially crafted, delivering a design to lift the spirit. It is able to do so, not only because of the attention paid to the planning and engineering detail of the design team, but also due to the pride, skill and craftsmanship exhibited in its material execution.
A calm, welcoming, warm and light central drum-like space, including a social kitchen area and fireplace, leads into more focussed areas of programmed accommodation in the wings. These include library, counselling, relaxation and activity spaces, as well as more private areas for rest and reflection, and the Centre staff’s open offices, all over two levels. A discreet lift ensures accessibility for all, and ensures everyone can enjoy the spectacular view from the mezzanine balcony.
Light plays a vital role in the creation and reflection of energy in the building, being admitted both through the walls and the roof in a unique manner.
The dynamic geometrical form is precisely defined in plan through finely engineered precast concrete walls. They incorporate an array of traditionally proportioned small punched window openings. These house simple timber opening lights supporting the low-energy, natural ventilation of the centre. They collectively provide a myriad of 360 degree framed glimpses into the beautiful surroundings in an apparently random pattern, placed at various heights in all of the spaces.
In addition, a large elliptical occular rooflight provides the warm expansive and ever circling daylight to the central drum. Clerestorey lights along the length of the wings’ spinal ridges generate equally dynamic lines of light that move across the day to either side.
The swept movement of the scheme is echoed in a generous elliptical spiral stair that leads up to the open mezzanine gallery and further library area.
Engineering and Contemporary Tradition
One of the most pleasing attributes of the constructional detail of this building is the requisite marriage between 21st Century CAD, cutting and forming techniques and highly traditional craft-based skills.
These considerations applied both to the overall geometries, setting out and strategy of structural engineering, as well as to the execution of the precast concrete walls, the hollow section steel spines and the central occulus framing. Every individual carpentry rafter and each joint required to form the upward spiralling wing structures, leading to the central elliptical lofty cone itself, all had to obey the inherent discipline of geometry set within the project.
The material workmanship required to create and hold the form accurately has been of the most skilled nature in masonry, carpentry, steel and metalworks.
Not only does the highest demanding quality of concrete work inherently encompass the energy of the design geometry, but it also incorporates two further particularly sophisticated elements of detail.
Firstly, an integral form of tapering triangular “cornice” visually links the walls directly to the equally challenging and precise form of the rising wings leading to the central conical roof. This concrete cornice constantly tapers, changing section along the whole of its length.
Secondly, the walls are enhanced and highlighted through the incorporation of sparkling platelets of titanium, embedded and framed within the concrete’s perfectly smooth surface. Masterminding and coordinating the requisite rotations and placement of the platelets within the varying radii of walls, simultaneously achieving a flush surface finish, was no mean feat.
The roof comprises three important elements:
Firstly, the definitive steel spines to the wings with centrally supporting occulus ring beam. These sweeping hollow steel forms act as a backbone to the whole roof structure. Once placed they defined the absolute setting out of the remaining roof form, to follow. Welded bracketry onto the spines guaranteed the precise placement of the upper and lower wing rafters; the lower wings being hung from the spine spiralling above at the higher ridge level.
Secondly, the carpentry ribs which, in raw construction took on the appearance of an ancient chapter house structure. A two part plywood structural skin covers the ribs, creating the final enclosure and surface form to support the roof surface finish.
Finally the geometry is enhanced and shown in the lines of the standing seams of the zinc roof. The seams, reflecting the ribs below, drain the roof down to a gutter that runs to the very tips of the wings, where cisterns catch the rainwater and send it on its way to the harvesting tank and the further planned use to irrigate the MSWW gardens.