Maggie's Centre, Dundee

World architecture... what's happening generally....

Postby alan d » Wed Jan 14, 2004 5:03 pm

.......I'm sure I overheard the sage of Scottish architecture, Andy Macmillan decribe it as an "architectural interpretation of the placebo" at this years RIAS Awards
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Postby alan d » Wed Jan 14, 2004 5:18 pm

Sorry, now I recall.......... that was that modern
" interpretation of the gazebo" on Tiree.

Stupid moi.
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Postby trace » Fri Jun 11, 2004 5:19 pm

Gehry care centre designed for free is Royal Fine Art Commission's building of year : http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/news/story/0,11711,1236395,00.html
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Re: Maggie's Centre, Dundee

Postby Ma broon » Thu Apr 21, 2011 11:19 pm

I am sorry to resurrect this thread so long after it was originally started, but, whilst "Googling" White Top Centre, Dundee, I came across this forum, discussing architecture. White Top Centre was mentioned by a few posters as an example of good design. As a mum of someone who attended White Top Centre, I felt it right to balance the views, of what appears to be "Artistic over Functionality". White Top Centre may tick all the boxes for artistic quality (the design won enough awards to support this), but, it fails totally as a functional centre for people with PROFOUND and Multiple disabilities. The idea of having a large, open cathedral like Activities area, failed to realise that this particular client group, make lots of noise, and the accoustics of the main area meant that this echoed, resulting in more and more over-stimulation, and more and more noises, which in turn resulted in more and more over-stimulation....you get the picture. The noise levels were/are truly horrendous, and counter-productive to creating an atmosphere conducive with calming the Service Users, enough to do productive work with them. The building also suffered from the obsession with glass and wood. In summer, effectively you had a greenhouse, where the temperature built up and up, and flow of air was so bad, with very few windows which opened, that the front and back doors had to be left open to allow for through-flow of air.......Service Users used to come out in sweat rashes as a result of build up of heat. Ventilation in the bathrooms, which for doubly incontinent adults were in constant use, was not up to the task. The bumpy bridge which was deemed a triumph, actually became a total pain in the butt, as when Service Users were placed into "Walkers" to try to encourage some form of walking, the bumpy bridge became an obstacle course, and whilst being pushed in their wheelchairs, instead of bringing out whoops of pleasure, it resulted in shock...and woe betide anyone with brittle bones, or osteoporosis. I could go on, pointing out dozens of failings of this building, which actually falls into the "Emperor's New Clothes" category, but, I think I should settle for asking that anyone involved in designing a building for people with disabilities, ACTUALLY designs a building which works WITH the needs of the disabled people, and does not create more problems than it solves. What LOOKS aesthetically pleasing is not always the best option. Practicality should have trumped looks in this remit.
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Re: Maggie's Centre, Dundee

Postby gunter » Thu May 19, 2011 12:26 am

Ma broon wrote:On the White Top Centre, Dundee.
. . . . . I could go on, pointing out dozens of failings of this building, which actually falls into the "Emperor's New Clothes" category, but, I think I should settle for asking that anyone involved in designing a building for people with disabilities, ACTUALLY designs a building which works WITH the needs of the disabled people, and does not create more problems than it solves. What LOOKS aesthetically pleasing is not always the best option. Practicality should have trumped looks in this remit.

I don't know, reading their website, the architects seem very pleased with it.

The building doesn't appeal to me as architecture, but in fairness to them, I imagine the architects were trying to create an uplifting space that would bring a measure of joy into the lives of the residents suffering with severe disabilities, although having said that, I don't think we can completely rule out that they may also have had one eye on scooping a design award.

There is always the possibility that the residents do in fact enjoy the brightness and loudness of the building, but it's the staff who'd prefer if they'd all shut up and be docile.

Reading the Scotsman today, as you do, It looks like there are more architectural delights on their way to Dundee even as we speak with a new V+A gallery, a competition winner by a Japanese practice; Kengo Kuma Associates.

Image Image
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Re: Maggie's Centre, Dundee

Postby Ma broon » Sat Sep 24, 2011 3:05 pm

gunter, you said
I don't know, reading their website, the architects seem very pleased with it.


And, therein is the major problem.........the architects, the Council leaders and anyone else who could use this building as a photo opportunity, or as a plus on their CV or Conference circuit, fail to realise that THEY were not the focal point of this remit. It was a group of VERY profoundly disabled adults.......with little or no speech, doubly incontinent, and who had no comprehension of how to deal with over-stimulating noise/light.

White Top fails in its remit, BECAUSE it fails the end users. It rates 5* if you want to look at pretty things.

I imagine the architects were trying to create an uplifting space that would bring a measure of joy into the lives of the residents suffering with severe disabilities


How would anyone like to sit in an airport foyer, with constant noise, confined to a cathedral-like space which echoes over and over? Or where there is no respite from heat in the summer as so much of the building was made of glass.....with no way to shut out the strong sunshine ........for the reasons of cooling or to reduce the glare. The lack of flow of air is also a problem, caused by far too few opening windows and front and back doors which should be kept closed because of the SAFETY and SECURITY of the Service Users, and, so, you have a cauldron situation in hot summer days.......in both meanings....heat and tension.....and here I have to defend 100% the staff, as THEY seem always to cope.....it is the service users who the building is supposed to have been designed for who cannot cope with the design. The Respite flat section, however, is a triumph, now that it has been "tweaked", as is the Hydrotherapy pool (which has also had to be redesigned....having pebbles which were "design features" removed, as they were dangerous, together with other aspects of the original design of the pool area).

There is always the possibility that the residents do in fact enjoy the brightness and loudness of the building, but it's the staff who'd prefer if they'd all shut up and be docile.


"Brightness" can be dreadful for people with visual problems, and noise and overstimulation can be horrifying for anyone on the Autistic Spectrum.

I'm a mum of a former WTC Service User, and I have to say I take my hat off to the staff who are quite superb, and try to find inventive ways AROUND the design faults. Imagine placing a baby in a pushchair in a greenhouse, with loudspeakers blaring all day, and you get an idea of what the SERVICE USERS get out of this building's design.

To address the point you make about the Service users enjoying the brightness and loudness of the building, how much work would you get done sitting in a railway station/airport envirnoment, because THAT is what is being asked of the service Users at White Top.......there is very little respite ...or "quiet areas/rooms" to get away from the constant noise and over-stimulation. My own daughter has actually come on in leaps and bounds in a previously run-down hovel of a building, since she left White Top..........and this has absolutely nothing to do with the abilities/attitude/qualities of the staff at White Top, and everything to do with the building design.

Finally, I think it shows, by the lengths you have gone to, including besmirching staff who do an amazing job, to find SOME way of contending that the design is good for the end users...in ANY way,...... that people who are NOT directly involved with Profoundly disabled adults have SO LITTLE understanding of what THEIR needs actually are.

It should also be noted that by adopting this very expensive model, funds for other centres for disabled people were effectively put in that one basket....it has never been repeated, nor will it, I suspect.....and, so disabled adults in the city have their Centres housed in former "old folks homes", previously empty buildings, or buildings which were never built for the needs of this client group....but, hey, the VIPs had plenty of photo opportunities at Whitetop Centre.

A wee hint, don't let anyone at Dundee Social Work see you use the word "suffering" when describing disability :shh: THEY get offended by words.
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Re: Maggie's Centre, Dundee

Postby Ma broon » Sat Sep 24, 2011 3:16 pm

Sorry, my tone to you was a bit more strident than I meant it. I understand fully that you were only trying to find "positives" in a faulty design, albeit an award winning design.....but, hey, hands off the staff :shh: as they are pure gold, in a seam of ...........well, self-interest.

The winner of the V&A was one of the better options, in a mixed bag of looks. I get the idea of shimmering glass reflecting the silvery Tay, but, my experiences of large glazed areas, and cathedral like spaces, leaves me waiting in trepidation to see if THEY can get it right, and avoid the mistakes of the design of Whitetop Centre.
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Re: Maggie's Centre, Dundee

Postby gunter » Sun Sep 25, 2011 11:15 pm

It would be great if you could illustrate the flaws in the design, and the design concept, with an aul picture or two, for those of us who aren't familiar with the building.

I suspect you may be spot on with your analysis of the design intentions; that the architects might have had more than one eye on the design awards submission rather than the needs of the actual end users of the building, but not all architects are that grasping, some do genuinely try to create up-lifting spaces and architects do usually see that as their role. Perhaps somebody in the commissioning committee should have spotted that the proposed design might end up creating an over-stimulating space utterly unsuited to the needs of the people they are attempting to care for, is it entirely fair to lay all the blame on the architects?
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Re: Maggie's Centre, Dundee

Postby Ma broon » Mon Feb 20, 2012 10:06 pm

gunter, sorry I have taken so long to come back to your posting. You are absolutely right when you say that it is not all the fault of the architects. For a start the building is squeezed into a tiny piece of ground, with absolutely no space to expand (if the model had been successful). It's also down a tiny lane, off a busy road, so entering and exiting, can be a case of risking life and limb to get in or out. The car park is tiny, and so, trying to park and drop off a service user results in rushing in and out, with very little opportunity for Carers to communicate with staff (very important with non-verbal service Users)......and, so we haven't even got INTO the building and there are already huge issues about the commissioning of this building in this plot of land.

Also, originally, the glass doors opened automatically all the time (great idea for pushing wheelchairs), BUT, the downside is that for those Service Users with a bit more mobility, there was little in the way of barrier to stop them exiting the building, into the car park and possibly ultimately onto the very busy road, some 30 yards away. Someone other than the architects should have taken this into account, and made sure that safety in THAT site was a case of "belt and braces", and not "fingers crossed" that no-one exits who shouldn't .... and no-one can enter unseen who shouldn't. (This issue has been addressed now and the building is secure). But, it was an issue which should have been treated as high priority from the start, and not just a case of treating one aspect (pushing wheelchairs through doorways), as the ONLY design aspect of the external door. Again, that falls squarely on the shoulders of those who commissioned the building to make sure that the architects had a full understanding of this particular client group's needs. (Unfortunately, too often even those in the field of caring for people with disabilities don't always understand the needs of people with PMLD......"Disabled toilet" being an obvious misnomer, and total misunderstanding of the needs of people with Profound and Multiple Learning DISABILITIES, who may require hoists/plinths/shower facility etc. and NOT just a slightly bigger toilet with handrails). (Google "Changing Places Toilets" to see what is required to make a "Disabled toilet" worthy of the name.), and you begin to see how even those passing laws about disability haven't got a grasp on the diversity of disability..... but, I digress....
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Re: Maggie's Centre, Dundee

Postby Ma broon » Mon Feb 20, 2012 10:56 pm

Returning to White Top Centre....

Once you enter you immediately see the height, the glass, the wood, the rockface, the bumpy bridge, and if you hang over the bridge you can even see downstairs to the hydrotherapy pool. The ground level is where the problems lie. The height actually just adds to the echo quality when Service Users start shrieking. The glass turns the Centre into a greenhouse reminiscent of equatorial Africa in summer. Far too few opening windows...just glass. The air flow/quality can be absolutely horrendous at times....and don't even get me started on the bathrooms' ventilation. The rockface means absolutely nothing to the Service Users, and after a few times entering the building it just disappears from your consciousness, and becomes a block of space underutilised, rather than an interactive/stimulating/pretty aspect of the reception area.....wasted space, and wasted opportunity.....but, I'll bet it was a feature which cost a pretty penny. The bridge taking you from the reception area to the open plan recreation area are logs cut in half, creating a bumpy effect when wheelchairs are pushed over it. The problem is that it is jarring and uncomfortable, rather than exciting or stimulating...and acts as an obstacle course when Service Users are placed in walkers. The "Recreation area", is open plan, and most of the time all the Service Users are in this one area together........and the noise/overstimulation is horrendous at times. The kitchen/dining area are practical if not "bonny". The "Upper Terrace" is actually quite a nice area in the summer, although it is overlooked by the student halls of residence. The Snoezelen room was the triumph of the ground level, but basically it is four walls, and it is the contents which made it a Wow. I don't know if the architects sourced the equipment, but if they did they deserve Kudos for that. If not,....they designed four walls. The upper level is reached by a small lift or stairs hidden behind the reception area, and effectively there is a balcony area, a small sitting area, a small "staff room", and the media studio, but it's not a large area for an upper floor. The lower level is where it does quite well. The Respite flat (although it has had the bathroom extended and refitted) has a lovely feel to it, and if the whole building had been like this it would have deserved it's accolades. Across from the flat is the hydrotherapy pool, which required major overhaul to take out the sitting pool (health hazard with this group), decorative??? pebbles around the pool, and to replace some of the tiling. The changing rooms are separated by shower curtains, so no expense.....spent. However, now the pool has had major changes made it is a superb facility for the wider disabled community, with it's rise and drop platform being a huge plus for this group.
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Re: Maggie's Centre, Dundee

Postby Ma broon » Mon Feb 20, 2012 11:50 pm

Here's a link to Nicoll Russell's own view of White Top Centre...

http://www.nrsarchitects.com/_Whitetop.html

If you look at the ground level floor plan, you can see how much space is taken up with Meeting room, Reception, Office Space, Kitchen/Dining area, bumpy bridge, water feature (rockface) etc, and how little is actually given over to the Service Users.... (the Recreation area and Snoezelen Room), and that Recreation area is what you can see in the photo with the blurry faces.....not large is it?

What bothers me is that Architectural students are still holding this building up as a good design. It's not. It might have features which look pretty, but are they functional for this group? It may have features which are held up as "stimulating" or "engaging" or "interactive", but are they....or are they just gimmicky? The problem is that when it was completed it garnered so many awards (from people who should have known better), that of course people begin to believe in an Emperor's New Clothes mentality, that is IS wonderful. When that happens, they have lost sight of the focus of the design....the needs of the Service Users
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