The Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre: Sculpture, Landscaping and Interiors


The Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre, photo courtesy of IBI group

Cancer patients and hospital staff provided inspiration for a major public art project at one of Macmillan’s biggest building projects, managed by Willis Newson.

From its earliest stages, art was a part of the development of the Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre. The programme integrates art, interior design and landscaping to contribute to the character of the Centre, incorporating nature as a positive resource to enhance health and wellbeing.

We worked with Macmillan, Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, and architects IBI Group and Fira Landscape architects to deliver the project.

Willis Newson’s Director Jane Willis said:

“Art helps to create a supportive healing environment for patients. It helps to give a building character and to make it more personal. We know that the natural environment has a restorative value and a positive effect on health, so we’ve tried to blur the boundaries between inside and outside.

“One of the reasons for the success of this project was our early involvement. This enabled us to engage artists at the feasibility stage so that the art, interior design and landscaping all work together to provide a positive, therapeutic environment for patients, staff and visitors.”

Willis Newson appointed artist Jo Fairfax to work on the project. To gather inspiration for his work he met with staff and patients, which he found very moving. He said:

“This project has been amazing because of the inspiring way that Macmillan fused the architecture, landscape and artistic teams right from the beginning of the creative process so that the different designed elements would read as one gently undulating environment. I was also incredibly moved working with staff and some extraordinary patients at  Harrogate District Hospital. Their input at Design Meetings really helped set a tone of sensitivity to the design. One patient in particular helped me to understand the sensibility that would be required for the building. Her spirit was amazing and I used that as a rudder during the creative process. I used a geometric image of a seed developing and I was able to discuss the metaphor of the seed which could be seen either as something growing which was unwanted, or as a symbol of hope and possibility, a positive thing in nature.”

The final artworks use light and colour throughout the building and surrounding landscape. Using patterns inspired by nature, Jo created a series of perforated metal cylindrical light tubes which border pathways. This design is also incorporated in nine back-lit panels on the external walls of the building, and in the long metal fence. These add light and pattern to the space, bringing natural forms into the built environment.

Alongside these, there are projections in the building's courtyard. Jo's aim was to give back a sense of control to patients, as it is their movements which trigger the projections and bring the artwork alive.

When people walk past animated glazing along one of the corridors, an image of a gardener comes to life and he appears to walk across the window.

The Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre, Photo courtesy of IBI Group

“When patients are undergoing treatment, they can sometimes feel as though they have lost control of what is happening to them. The idea behind the responsive film and the animated glass is to give the patient back some control by using their own movement as a trigger. Each artistic component is created to engage and contribute towards a gently healing and positive environment.”

Jo Fairfax