Case study

FEET FIRMLY ON THE GROUND

Located across Britain and abroad, Maggie’s Centres are conceived to provide a welcoming ‘home away from home’ – a place of refuge where people affected by cancer can find emotional and practical support. Inspired by the blueprint for a new type of care set out by Maggie Keswick Jencks, they place great value upon the power of architecture to lift the spirits and help in the process of therapy. The design of the Manchester centre aims to establish a domestic atmosphere in a garden setting – using a warm palette of materials consisting of natural wood, quarry tiles and brick allows the building to merge with the surrounding landscape.

Made from natural elements, quarry tiles and brick were ideal building elements that embodied the architectural spirit of the project. Staffordshire Blue quarry tiles have been used for the interior flooring, with matching blue pavers on the veranda. A bullnose header detail, together with bullnose interior and exterior returns were employed to finish off the external paving on a raised terrace area surrounding the building, which impart a softer, more impressive edge.

The building sits lightly on the ground and the points where the structure – timber trusses and slender steel posts – meets the ground is celebrated by ‘clay feet’. An important design feature, they protect the base of the columns throughout the centre. Specially designed by Foster + Partners, the bricks were manufactured by Ketley Brick established in 1805 in Dudley in the West Midlands. The clay used for the manufacture of all their products is sourced from their quarry ½ mile from the factory. It is the properties of the clay and the reduction atmosphere in the kiln that produces the deep Staffordshire blue colour.

There are three different types of ‘clay feet’, each dependent on its location. The steel columns in the veranda have a cone-shaped brick that wraps itself around the base. The brick was moulded and fired in two halves, and put together on site with a joint between the two. The ‘clay foot’ has a wide circular base, which narrows towards the top, with a circular opening for the steel column. The timber columns on the exterior of the glasshouse required far more complicated feet as they needed to accommodate the glazing panels as well. These bricks were designed in three parts with the glass sandwiched in-between. Each part was moulded separately to match the varying angles of the sloping glass. The clay feet designed for the interior spaces have a rectilinear base that gently curves upwards to meet the timber column. The widest dimension of the base matches the width of two quarry tiles, preserving the gridlines in the paving pattern.

In a marked departure from the usual technique of using working drawings to manufacture the brick, the shape and size of the brick was refined through a series of 3D-printed models, which were then matched and moulded in clay. A particular challenge was to accurately scale up the size of the clay moulds to account for the shrinkage that takes place during drying and firing of clay. Similarly, since the feet needed to surround the steel core of the columns they needed to be cut out on the inside before they were fired, this posed a challenge to maintain the shape during the drying process, which was overcome by placing a clay brace on the inside that would shrink at the same rate as the rest of the unit.