Part 5 – Manifesto

January 2016

Material kindness

My doctor asked me if mould grows in my house. I said I didn’t think so, at least not any more than would be normal. She told me moulds can worsen my condition. I had another realisation: Kind architecture is responsible. It has a responsibility to not cause harm as much as keeping its inhabitants safe, and the proper selection of safe material can help this.

Studies show that pollutants, toxins and moulds have a detrimental effect on our health. New or old, unsafe materials release pollutants and toxins at all phases of their lifecycle.1 As all things do, materials decay; and research shows that as they decay different kinds of mould take up residence in them.2

While decay cannot be avoided, kind architecture can avoid unsafe materials and seek safe methods to prevent or impede mould growth as materials age and decay. Plastics and composite materials could be avoided (but certain types cannot: like polyethylene damp-proof membranes and reinforced concrete), and many sustainable materials are good choices.3 The palette for kind architecture is, therefore, natural building materials for health and sustainability, including woods, stones, and earth.

Photograph by Nigel Young.
Nigel Young, Maggie’s Centre by Foster + Partners, 2016.
Photograph by Nigel Young.
Nigel Young, Maggie’s Centre by Foster + Partners, 2016.

How these natural and healthy materials come together is the enactment of kind architecture. Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres (Maggie’s) epitomise this enactment: a series of buildings that aim to improve patients’ and their families’ experience of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Each centre is an ‘informal domestic’ styled building, many using natural materials to construct friendly and inviting spaces for patients to heal; physically, emotionally, spiritually.4

The Manchester Maggie’s Centre uses the palette of kind architecture. Completed in 2016 by Norman Foster and partners, Foster drew on his own experience in battling cancer, creating a welcoming aura using wood for the main structure, and large windows opening onto homely flower and food gardens emphasising his belief in the therapeutic effect of nature.5 His choice of materiality is a significant contributor to how the building’s presence and energy are perceived by the people experiencing it.



  1. Klára Kobetičová and Robert Černý, “Ecotoxicology of Building Materials: A Critical Review of Recent Studies,” Journal of Cleaner Production 165 (2017).
  2. Marie Viel et al., “Resistance to Mold Development Assessment of Bio-Based Building Materials,” Composites Part B: Engineering  (2018).
  3. Brenda Vale, “Building Materials,” in Materials for a Healthy, Ecological and Sustainable Built Environment, ed. Emina Kristina Petrović, Brenda Vale, and Maibritt Pedersen Zari (Woodhead Publishing, 2017).
  4. Maggie’s Keswick Jencks Cancer Caring Trust (Maggie’s), “Maggie’s Architecture and Landscape Brief,” (2015).
  5. Amy Frearson, “Norman Foster’s Timber-Framed Maggie’s Centre Opens in His Home Town of Manchester,” Dezeen (27 April 2016).


Kind Architecture

A retroactive manifesto on recovery and architecture.

Part 1 – May 2015

Part 2 – September 2015

Part 3 – November 2015

Part 4 – December 2015

Part 5 – January 2016

Part 6 – February 2016