Mae designs senior day-care centre in southeast London to tackle social isolation

Mae Architects has completed the John Morden Centre, a day-care and health facility that explores solutions to the issue of loneliness among elderly people.

The centre forms part of Morden College, a long-standing retirement community in Blackheath, southeast London, that is home to more than 300 senior residents.

Brick facade of John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
John Morden Centre features a CLT structure and a brick facade

As well as providing medical facilities that include doctor and physiotherapy consultation rooms, it offers a range of social and activity spaces such as a cafe, an events hall and an arts and crafts studio.

"Buildings can play a major part in supporting longer, healthier and independent lives," said Alex Ely, founding director at Mae Architects.

Exterior of John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
The design takes its cues from Morden College's historic buildings

"The goal of the building is to foster a community atmosphere, allowing residents to live life to the full and have fun," he continued.

"It responds to growing evidence about the value of community in old age, the importance of preventing loneliness, especially as loneliness is twice as unhealthy as obesity for older people."

Cloister in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
A colonnade-style corridor features seating niches facing out to the courtyard

First established in 1695, Morden College's buildings include an almshouse and chapel attributed to St Paul's Cathedral architect Christopher Wren and built by master mason Edward Strong.

The John Morden Centre references these historic buildings in its materials palette. Instead of a traditional timber frame, it boasts a cross-laminated timber (CLT) structure that is exposed internally, while the facade is red brick.

Dining room in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
The dining room is a double-height space with large windows and a skylight

The design also includes contemporary reinterpretations of Wren's steeply pitched roofs, focal chimneys and, most importantly, cloisters.

Here, a cloister provides the building with a generous passageway that weaves between different social spaces, and provides seating niches that face out to a courtyard.

"The building is designed around a colonnade that runs the full length of the building," states Ely in a video about the project. "A series of pavilions hang off that colonnade."

This colonnade open up to the cafe, a double-height space where large windows and a skylight direct plenty of natural light onto the warm-toned timber walls and ceiling.

Art classes at John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
A workshop room hosts activities such as art classes

Either side of the cafe, the hall and workshop spaces provide opportunities for a range of activities that include fitness sessions, art classes and sports event screenings.

Other spaces include a snug, a winter garden and a patio terrace.

Event hall in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
A theatre provides a space for events and fitness classes

"The building is very flexible, and it's very much intended that the residents make it their own," said Ely.

"They will set up their own programmes, whether that's art classes or race nights," he said. "It allows the residents to really feel that it's theirs and they can help shape the life of that building."

Mae was recently shortlisted for the Stirling Prize for another CLT-framed building, the Sands End community centre in Fulham. Other recent projects include a senior living building in Westminster.

The photography is by Jim Stephenson.


Project credits

Architect: Mae
Client: Morden College
Interior designers: Scott-Masson Interior Design
Main contractor: Clive Graham Associates
Structural engineer: Michael Hadi Associates
M&E consultant: BOOM
Project manager: Calford Seaden
Quantity surveyor: Calford Seadon
Planning consultant: Stanway Little
Landscape designer: J&L Gibbons

More images and plans

Floor plan, John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Night view of John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Night view of John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Brick facade of John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Terrrace of John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Colonnade in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Seating niche in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Timber-lined dining room in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Dining room window in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Cafe in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Craft workshop in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Craft workshop in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Workshop in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Light and shadow in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Ceiling in John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Residents in cafe at John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Art classes at John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Art classes at John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Art classes at John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
Residents at John Morden Centre by Mae Architects
John Morden Centre by Mae Architects