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Roger Williams University Architecture Students Rethink ‘Maggie’ for Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation

Drawing inspiration from the Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres in the United Kingdom, students in RWU’s graduate architectural design studio class present designs for a new Rhode Island cancer center

This month, representatives of The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation were presented with 11 designs for a Rhode Island cancer center conceived by architecture graduate students at Roger Williams University.

Students in the University’s graduate architectural design studio class were asked to bring the Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres model – a United Kingdom cancer care concept – back to Rhode Island. The concept was imported, translated and applied by the RWU students to suit the needs of The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, Rhode Island’s largest and most respected breast cancer nonprofit. The simulated pitch session was an opportunity for students to get some hands-on experience with a bona fide client.  

“Working with a nonprofit like The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation was an inspirational experience that enabled my graduate students to put their skills to work in a real-world situation,” says Associate Professor of Architecture Gary Graham, who supervised the project.  

The Centres are named for Maggie Keswick Jencks, diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988 at age forty-seven. Five years later, when she was told she only had a few months to live, Jencks had a series of realizations that were to become the philosophical and structural underpinnings of the buildings she inspired. Trained in architecture and landscape design, it was Maggie Jencks who helped form the notion of care alternatives running parallel to the conventional treatments offered at hospitals.

“We try to offer here in Rhode Island what Maggie Jencks inspired in the U.K.: support, information and some nontraditional coping strategies to cancer survivors and their loved ones in a safe, caring and eye-catching environment,” says Gloria Gemma, executive director of The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation. “These student visions for a cancer center like Maggie’s here in Rhode Island are naturally a thrill for us to see and really stirred our imaginations.” 

This semester, RWU students were charged with programming, site selection, site analysis and developed design of an expressive reinterpretation of a Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre in the context of Rhode Island’s culture and environment. As added inspiration, the Foundation’s Hope Bus was on-site at Roger Williams University in May to give the students a glimpse of a big idea that came to life just last year. 

“The Hope Bus is a perfect example,” says Gary Calvino, director of development for the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation. “This is an environment where form meets function. Survivors share their stories, learn about this disease that affects so many Rhode Islanders and explore new ways to cope that they wouldn’t otherwise hear about.”

The Hope Bus – a 38-foot pink recreational vehicle – is The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation’s mobile resource and wellness unit. Hope Bus programs educate and comfort women with breast cancer, their family members and their friends, with special attention paid to uninsured, low-income and high-risk women.

“These students,” continued Calvino, “have given us some new thoughts about our potential future here in Rhode Island.”

“Not only did they build their professional credentials by working with a real client, but they also did it knowing it was for a great cause helping those affected by breast cancer in Rhode Island,” says RWU’s Graham. “We hope the students’ work will also inspire the Foundation to consider pursuing a project of this nature. Good architecture, art and landscape can only enhance the Foundation’s invaluable work.”

About the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation: The Gloria Gemma Foundation was established in 2004 in loving memory of Gloria J. Gemma and to honor her courageous fight against breast cancer. The organization’s mission is to raise breast cancer awareness; increase breast health education; enhance the quality of life for breast cancer patients, as well as their families and friends; and generate funding for local breast health programs. For more information, please call 401-861-HOPE (4376) or visit www.gloriagemma.org.