Block Vision

Avanti Architects redevelopment of Ulster Hospital in Northern Ireland is both environmentally responsible and patient focused


Donal McCann

Designed by Avanti Architects in association with Kennedy Fitzgerald Architects, the Inpatient Ward Block at Ulster Hospital in Northern Ireland forms the first phase of a £261m redevelopment programme. The 30,000- square-metre building comprises a day surgery, endoscopy and angiography department, cardiac investigation unit, pharmacy, cafe and 12 inpatient wards incorporating 288 single bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms.

The ward block and adjacent buildings are planned around landscaped courtyards. Inside, carefully chosen materials and colours create different identities for each department, assisting with wayfinding and providing a therapeutic environment for both patients and staff. The bedrooms are organised in clusters around staff bases according to the clinical needs of the ward. This ensures good levels of infection control, while affording patients both privacy and views of activities occurring outside their rooms. Integrated services at the bed head, together with built-in storage and wardrobe facilities, create a clutter-free space that is easy to maintain and clean.


Early engagement with the client team allowed a full-scale mock up of a bedroom to be constructed and tested prior to sign off. Generous areas of glazing in the ward block maximise daylighting and views from bedrooms and other areas. The building superstructure consists of an in-situ reinforced concrete frame with 400mm flat slabs and a combination of blade, square, rectangular and circular columns. A concrete frame was favoured for its effectiveness in dealing with acoustic and vibration requirements. The flat slab solution also simplifies the services design and installation, as well as allowing for future flexibility.


Structural stability is provided by in-situ reinforced concrete shear walls in the stair and lift cores, as well as other positions that suit the internal layout. Overall, the structural approach has buildability and CDM advantages in terms of programme, technical issues and cost, says the architect. Examples of this include simplified shuttering and reduced rebar quantities.Ceramic rainscreen cladding and aluminium curtain walling were chosen for the exterior to complement the surrounding phase A buildings, and for reasons of installation speed. The facade incorporates large expanses of glazing set within an outer ceramic rainscreen frame. Flush vertical glazing joints and dark spandrel panels are intended to create a seamless facade against which the extruded anodised horizontal face caps are accentuated.


The courtyard elevations employ ribbons of glazing and light-coloured rainscreen cladding to maximise daylighting in the wards. High performance colour-neutral glazing with a maximum solar transmittance value of 0.4 contribute to the scheme’s BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating. The glass also eschews the need for solar shading above the large bedroom windows, which may have obstructed views out and resulted in ongoing maintenance costs.


A servicing strategy combining a high-performance sealed envelope with mechanical ventilation utilising chilled beams is used throughout the patient areas. This ensures good internal conditions year round, while also addressing issues of infection control. A range of passive and active low-energy systems are used on the project, including combined heat and power units, biomass boilers, mechanical ventilation with air-handling units incorporating heat-recovery, efficient taps, shower heads and dual-flush toilets, LED lighting with proximity and daylight sensors, and building energy management systems. The anticipated annual CO2 emissions for the building are 97.14 kg/m²

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Avanti Architects, Kennedy Fitzgerald Architects
Structural engineer
Morgan Sindall Professional Services
Services engineer
Quantity surveyor
Capita Property & Infrastructure

Curtain walling
Ceramic rainscreen cladding
Brick cladding


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