Gehry helps bring light into lives of patients

Architect designs a care centre where cancer sufferers can go to for support and advice

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2013, 7:47pm

After designing a luxury Hong Kong residential building that set a price record for Asia, celebrated Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry has embarked on another project with a difference.

His next Hong Kong assignment is to brighten the lives of cancer patients.

The Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre, under construction in Tuen Mun Hospital car park and scheduled to open this spring, is part of a Britain-based network co-founded by Maggie Keswick Jencks, wife of US architectural theorist, landscape designer and writer Charles Jencks.

The centre, which has given stress management advice and psychological support to cancer patients since 2008, has been operating from a temporary space next to the site.

"The idea of a separate centre is based on the concept that the environment can influence people. We want to create a place that feels more like a home, not like a hospital," Helen Lui Wong Yun-fong, head of the centre's Hong Kong branch, said.

Colon cancer patient Calina Chan Wai-yee, 56, started visiting the centre last year after enduring long waits at the hospital.

"Everyone in the waiting area was miserable. I just wanted to get away for a while, like escaping from a cage," she said. "This little house next to the hospital caught my attention."

Chan used to suffer from depression and was suicidal after being diagnosed with cancer.

Joining the workshops and meeting fellow patients at the care centre has changed her attitude towards her condition.

"Hearing others' stories, I realised that life was not trying to be unfair to me. I can even consider myself lucky," Chan said with a smile.

Another patient at the centre, Cheng Man-ling, 65, has "learned to be good to myself".

She recently suffered a relapse and her breast cancer has spread to the bones. Doctors have told her she has a 50 per cent survival rate but "I won't let this take away my joy", she said.

After Maggie Keswick Jencks died of breast cancer in 1995, 11 centres opened throughout Britain. Many were designed by international architects such as Gehry, Japan's Kisho Kurokawa and Iraq-born Zaha Hadid.

Gehry, Jencks' friend, designed the centre in Dundee which opened in 2003, and was invited to do the one here.

The centre aims to attract more cancer patients through its special architectural design and approach, as many patients do not have the energy to look for help and support, said Lui.

Gehry's first residential building in Asia is the unusually shaped Opus Hong Kong in Stubbs Road.

One of the flats there sold for a record HK$68,083 a square foot in November.