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Gender, Class and a Cup of Tea: A Critical Discussion of How Maggie's Cancer Care Centre Engage with Culturally Constructed Expectations and Ideologies Pertaining to Gender and Class

Part 1 Dissertation 2012
Gregory Murrell
Newcastle University Newcastle upon Tyne UK
Maggie Keswick Jencks Cancer Caring Centres (Maggie's) are praised for providing the
quintessential antithesis to the frighteningly institutional atmosphere of a large hospital.
No doubt, their high profile is also due to the extraordinary list of architects who have
designed them, which reads like a who's who of an architectural coterie. Contrary to this
prevailing attitude within the architectural profession, this dissertation examines how the
well-designed spaces of these Centres also serve as spatial sorters, excluding certain
segments of society based on gender and class. It argues that healing spaces do not take
a universal form, but in fact are quite specific to certain culturally constructed
expectations of society.
The Centres adopt a wilful domesticity in their design and the kitchen may be identified
at the centre of virtually all Maggie's. Bespoke designer furniture and commissioned
artworks fill the remaining spaces where visual connections to natural elements outside
are also important. They are a built environment choreographed to relieve distress,
inspire confidence and allow the patient to feel valued. Thus Maggie's deliberately brings
the care giving process into the more familiar surroundings of home; the widely accepted
inference being that this particular mode of physical space is more conducive to the
physiological process of dealing with and hopefully overcoming cancer than that of the
impersonal general hospital.
In this dissertation, by compiling an in-depth analysis of their design, self-publicity,
representation in popular media and architectural discourse, I examine whether there is a
relationship between the physical, visual and verbal presence of Maggie's on the one
hand and the disparity in the number of male vs. female patients (ratio 1:3) visiting
despite the comparable incidence of cancer in both sexes and their perceived middleclassness
on the other. I argue that this line of enquiry presents some unexpected
discoveries and provokes further questions for Maggie's and, more broadly, the field of
Neurobiology into what may be regarded as a physical space conducive to healing.

Gregory Murrell

Zeynep Kezer
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