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Shade for this Irish hospital is no accident

Exteriors, Features | November 1, 2013 | By:

A dynamic fabric canopy for an accident and emergency unit at the Enniskillen Acute Hospital matches the high-level precision and artistic quality of the building.

A new acute care hospital in Enniskillen, Ireland, is one of the most advanced healthcare facilities in Europe. The first hospital in Northern Ireland to be designed without wards, the facility has 312 single-patient rooms, a preventive measure to combat superbugs and disease. The 63,000m2, four-story building contains a complete range of acute care departments, including a specialist children’s center for ambulatory care, a neo-natal ICU, a special care baby unit and an Accident and Emergency unit. Each unit is organized in a stacked, four-story block separated by landscaped gardens between, the whole linked by glazed atria so that the entire complex forms an interconnected rectangular grid.

Designed by Anshen and Allen architects (now Stantec) for FCCElliot, the hospital needed additional protection from wind, rain, snow and solar glare for the entrance to the A&E unit. A tensioned fabric structure canopy does the job beautifully. While serving both ambulance crews and patients well, the canopy continues the modern appearance of the complex and is a piece of art itself that is tasteful and functional.

The canopy, a slender elongated plane of white fabric with rounded ends, floats above the building entrance supported on two white columns at opposite ends, one short, the other piercing the canopy at a jaunty angle. The shorter column splits in two to form a “Y” support at one end. The longer, angled column extends above the canopy to twice the height to create a mast from which the canopy hangs by three white cables. As the angled mast passes through the fabric of the canopy, the designers pulled back the opaque white fabric and replaced it with a transparent membrane circle of ETFE surrounding the mast like a skylight.

Although ETFE foil is an advanced technically durable material (often used in air-filled pillow format), it was not suitable for covering the entire canopy, yet it still provides a prominent feature. The main cladding is a PTFE-coated glass fiber fabric that requires little maintenance and has a lifespan of from 25 to 30 years.

Bruce Wright, AIA, is an architect, writer and the former editor of Fabric Architecture magazine.

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