Benedetta Tagliabue, the architect of the Kálida Center

benedetta tagliabue

In mid-May, on the grounds of the Sant Pau hospital, the Kálida Center opened in Barcelona with the aim of providing emotional and practical support to cancer patients, their families, and their friends. The center is managed by a private foundation to which several companies, including bulthaup, have given their support.

The unique center is warm, inviting, spacious and flooded with natural light, blending open areas with other more secluded, private spaces. Its design, following the Maggie's Centres philosophy of an "architecture for caring", includes a building surrounded by gardens that blurs the boundaries between inside and out. The architect behind the project is Benedetta Tagliabue (EMBT).

Facing the unexpected

Benedetta Tagliabue's involvement in conceiving and building the center can be traced back to the impact and the impressions resulting from her husband's illness –Enric Miralles, also an architect, who died of cancer in 2000.

Sometime before Enric's diagnosis, during construction of the Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh, he and Benedetta had met the renowned landscape architect and architectural historian Charles Jencks –the widower of Maggie Keswick Jencks, who inspired the first Maggie's Centres. Shortly thereafter, during a visit to Houston to deliver a lecture, Enric was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Benedetta describes how, when they were in the hospital, they discovered a building called Place of Wellness –an inviting, peaceful place facing away from the hospital itself, where a group of volunteers helped patients accept and endure their illness. The couple's visits there had a particularly soothing, calming effect on their spirits.

 kalida project

Cancer always comes as an unexpected blow. Enric and Benedetta, at the height of their careers and with two small children, were suddenly hit by the unfathomable –one of those things we assume can only happen to others. And suddenly, from one day to the next, they had to stop and rethink everything.

That was when they began to encounter the negligence of standard medical facilities as regards the mood and frame of mind of patients and their loved ones. Benedetta remembers that when her husband was in treatment in the United States, she was struck by the lack of windows and natural light in the hospital. You felt as if you were in a cellar, isolated from the world. In her opinion, although hospitals provide highly efficient service, they do not take into account the patient's wellbeing, the importance of a truly human environment.

The memory of that distressing experience is what has driven her, years later, to answer the call of the project’s initiators at Fundación Kálida and volunteer her design for the recently-opened center. Kálida is part of the international Maggie's network, which, as its inspirational promoter Maggie Keswick Jencks proposed, combines beauty and harmony.

kalida center

A soothing refuge

Kálida Center, close to the Sant Pau oncology day hospital and outpatient clinic, aims to create a home-like atmosphere, a place where people can talk and share all the fears and concerns that plague anyone in the midst of a cancer process. It is designed as a building with two floors unfolding around an open central space that acts as a connecting hub. On the ground level, a long communal bulthaup table next to an open kitchen allows visitors to relax, chat, or simply feel they are not alone. The interior space extends into more intimate corners, for resting or having a quiet conversation with a member of the support staff, and common rooms for group activities, such as relaxation sessions. Sliding glass doors and large picture windows connect the interior with a Mediterranean garden that clings sinuously to the uneven terrain. The nooks and crannies, light-colored wood, varied furniture, and the natural light pouring through the windows and skylights create an atmosphere that is at once intimate, serene, and joyful.

Seeking inspiration from the hospital built by Domènech i Montaner in the early twentieth century and in his philosophy of beauty contributing to healing and soothing, Benedetta Tagliabue has succeeded in creating a place to seek refuge if the sudden awareness of the fragility of all we have taken for granted forces us to accept uncertainty and experience life one step at a time.

Photography 1: Lluc Miralles

Photography 2: Roberto Ramos

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