Aberdeen was the last key city in Scotland to receive a Maggie's Cancer Care Centre. This important development allows the organisation to deliver much-needed support to the population of a large catchment area. Following our work on key projects throughout the NHS Grampian campus in Aberdeen, we had established an excellent relationship with the NHS, and their team recommended us to Maggie's as a suitable contractor for this ambitious scheme.

From first contact in March 2012, we embraced Maggie's vision and took the project to a successful, safe, on-time and on-budget delivery in August 2013.




Maggie's philosophy is for cancer patients and their families to receive support in an environment that feels welcoming, peaceful and homely. Snøhetta, the Norwegian architects behind the National September 11 Museum Pavilion in New York, has designed an intimate space for this care to be provided, nestling under a protective concrete shell. Domestic detailing support was provided by Halliday Fraser Munro.

The concept behind the structure was for the shell to be cave-like with carved openings, loosely based on the shape of a pebble. Within this cave, a timber structure was designed to look as if it had been carved from a single piece of white oak. Internally, the spaces flow seamlessly into each other, creating the illusion of a large space while keeping meeting areas cosy and intimate, in line with the ethos of the building's end users.

The project embodied innovative construction approaches, solved commercial and technical challenges, and displayed safe practices during high-risk operations. The building's unique design - combined with its ability to captivate and enthuse everyone involved - makes Maggie's in Aberdeen a very special project indeed.

Problems solved by fresh thinking

The building fabric is the project's most novel feature: a single, continuously curving, free-spanning concrete structure, which meets building regulations and achieves high standards of finishing. Initially, the client and their design team did not know how they would complete the complex external concrete shell. We adopted a collaborative and innovative approach towards resolving procurement, engineering and construction challenges - with regards to design elements such as the concrete shell, the glazing and the timber - to great effect.

The overall construction budget of £1.7m was set through development of the costs plan pre-construction award to Robertson. The uniqueness of this build dictated an unconventional approach to principal contractor/sub-contractor procurement. While maintaining the architect's vision through careful consideration, we brought the project to a commercial conclusion for around £1.45m. The client's project management team were pivotal in championing several large donations from key contractors; primarily from the electrical contractor, who provided free labour with materials at cost, and the mechanical contractor who provided labour, materials and installation free of charge - equating to savings of around £100k.

A safe environment, inside and out

A Maggie's Centre must provide a safe environment - both during construction and in use - and some aspects of the build required rigorous safety planning. We were working adjacent to a live helipad, which meant strict Foreign Object Debris procedures were required, similar to those adopted within air-side airport environments.

Successfully spraying 600 tonnes of concrete, mixed on site within a live hospital environment - without impacting on other trades, NHS logistics and protocols, or members of the public - also demanded the best possible safety practices.

To ensure that the building's environmental as well as physical footprint was small, photovoltaic solar arrays were discretely installed within the grounds, so as to be effective while not impacting on the building's aesthetics. Underfloor heating is provided via external air heat transfer pumps, and the building is sufficiently well insulated so that when we carried out the SBEM calculations, we were able to remove all the upper floor electric convection heaters from the scheme.

On time, on budget and founded on charity

Maggie's client team also worked with our supply chain to secure meaningful contributions of time, materials and resources in the charitable ethos of the scheme, being funded solely from donor contributions. 

Robertson regularly facilitated and hosted site walk-abouts with potential donors, which helped the client secure several large contributions towards the build/operational budget. We also helped develop valuable PR material by giving the client access to our time-lapse camera footage and site photo updates.

Our team's commitment to the project went beyond design and construction, as they organised and participated in several fundraising events - including the Maggie's Monster challenge, which involved a 31-mile bike ride followed by a 41-mile hike, literally going the extra mile for Maggie's. Colin Montgomerie spearheaded the fundraising campaign for the build and initial operation of Maggie's Aberdeen, and the Centre - the Elizabeth Montgomerie Building - was named in honour of his mother.

Maggie's in Aberdeen has a small footprint, but a large impact - on the client, on Robertson and the wider project team, and most importantly on the people who use the centre.

You would be proud on a daily basis to see how your building is used and the impact it has on visitors. I thought that I was convinced of the power of the physical environment to effect change in behaviour and mood previously, but seeing the way people react when they come in (and return) really is something special.

Sharon O'Loan, Director of Fundraising, Maggie's, Scotland



A job well done is a reward in itself. But winning an award for it feels pretty good, too!
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