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Light and linear state-of-the-art medical facility

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In this article, Jon Palethorpe, Director at aluminium facade specialist, Wicona UK, looks at a bespoke and energy-efficient facade solution developed for an award-winning surgical clinic at the University Hospital in Ulm, South Germany.


Designed by Munich-based architects KSP Engel and Zimmermann, and built by BAM International, this €150m state-of-the-art medical facility is the largest hospital in the region of Baden Würtemberg, providing 235 ward beds, 80 intensive care beds and 15 operating theatres.

As a teaching hospital, Ulm University Hospital provides patients with the highest standards of medical care that combines both treatment and research. Its facilities include 1130 patient beds and numerous specialist departments.

The new 70,000m² surgical clinic brings together six departments which had previously been spread across a number of different sites and thereby enhancing the standards of care. A key aspect of the design brief was to create a spacious and light interior, and a building that blends well into its surrounding landscape. The scheme has a bright and distinctive envelope and a simple yet expressive architectural form. It comprises a base building and a structure that appears to float above a glass facade.

The hospital building has been constructed in two sections, with visitors entering via a large foyer. A central two-storey ‘spine’ allows access to all the specialist departments. The ward block is 160m long, and a ‘podium’ structure accommodates the operating theatres, intensive care unit, and outpatients’ department. There is also a roof-top helicopter landing pad.

Each element of the scheme has high levels of natural light and looks out onto a series of landscaped courtyards via highly glazed facades. This design is intended to provide a sense of wellbeing for patients and to remove any feelings of unease that people often have while in hospital.

The architects used a series of colours for each atrium and courtyard, based on four warm tones – yellow, orange, red and brown.

The transparent areas of the facade were based on Wicona’s WICTEC aluminium curtain walling suite, with highly insulated WICLINE casement windows inserted into the glazing for a seamless finish and to provide natural ventilation.

The facade solution was developed by Wicona in conjunction with fabricator, Dodel Metallbau. The WICTEC curtain walling was constructed with a horizontal emphasis and to accommodate large spans of glass, contributing to an uplifting, welcoming and pleasant internal environment for patients, staff and visitors to the hospital.

The window openings have multi-coloured glass to add interest to the front and rear elevations and to introduce colour and light into each patient’s room to aid recovery, increase patient satisfaction, and create a sense of wellbeing.

The new surgical clinic was completed within the scheduled timeframe and budget. Following its completion, the project has been presented with a prestigious architectural award from the German Architects Association – the first scheme in the healthcare sector to receive this award for design excellence. The panel of judges praised the ‘exceptional quality and functionality of the building’ and it has since been highlighted as a showcase project, with its design used to influence other healthcare developments.

Developed in Germany and widely used internationally, Wicona’s WICTEC curtain walling range has been engineered to deliver advanced technical performance and design options for a wide variety of building structures, such as the University Hospital project.

From classic stick curtain walling to unitised, structural glazing and double skin facades, this range will meet almost any application and building design – such as vertical and sloped glazing, pyramids and barrel vaulted roofs.

Architectural design options include:

  • Stick curtain walling with narrow face widths of 50mm and 60mm internally and externally, profile depths from 50mm to 260mm
  • A highly insulated facade which will achieve U values for the glazed system as low as 0.8 W/m2K to deliver advanced thermal performance
  • Curtain walling certified to passive house standards
  • Double skin facades
  • Integrated pressure plates of 51mm or 43mm which provide an efficient alternative to silicone joints for structural glazing and can be surface-mounted or flush
  • Integrated solar control systems
  • Structural glazing for glass-to-glass facades with less visible aluminium
  • Unitised curtain walling which offers all the design advantages of stick curtain walling with even faster installation because the units are pre-assembled and glazed off site
  • Bullet resistance in accordance with the international standard FB4

WICTEC curtain walling is based on one single system and common components to simplify specification and reduce time and costs in fabrication and installation. It has also been extensively tested in accordance with the latest international standards, such as EN 13830 – the European product standard for curtain walling, for further assurance of its engineering quality and long-term performance.

Windows are a key part of any building design, determining the aesthetic of the entire facade and setting the character of the scheme. As the Ulm project demonstrates, window and door systems can be seamlessly integrated and inserted into curtain walling to dramatic effect.

Wicona’s WICLINE window series allows specifiers to realise complex yet attractive fenestration designs that offer a high level of functionality for natural ventilation and precision. The opening options for ventilation include turn, tilt/turn, and parallel sliding/tilt windows, vertical or horizontal pivots, roof and smoke vents, ventilation flaps, and doors such as sliding, folding, automatic and inward/outward opening double or single leaf systems.

The new surgical clinic successfully demonstrates how a highly flexible curtain walling system can be applied to develop a complex facade solution for a state-of-the-art, landmark building.

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