This pre-schematic proposal by Philippe Barriere Collective (PB+Co) for a medical center in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, combines health facilities, accommodation for patients during recovery, and nature preservation practices. The most striking feature of the project is a large tower involved in a textile veil that helps to control the high temperatures felt in the region.
The Al Ain’s municipality wanted to create a flagship project that would embody an image of progress, encompassing science, medicine and high-technology, all within a natural environment. The complex would have to combine alternative medicine with wild life discovery, nature preservation, and outdoor activities as part of the patients’ healing process.
The resulting design by architecture firm (PB+Co) includes a Chelation Clinic, Integrated Dental Domes, a Healing Clinic and individual bungalows as patients’ private residences. Overlooking Al Ain Lake and the oasis surroundings – home to a wide range of animals such as aquatic birds, fish, frogs and reptiles – a tower will rest on pilotis to minimize the impact on the shore. Likewise, offshore bungalows will free the shoreline from construction.
An external textile veil will shelter the entire tower like a loose cap. This layer generates a buffer air zone that protects the building’s facade from the outside heat. This allows natural cooling control and additional shading protection.
The parachute veil is layered over a super-pressure balloon which crowns the tower. The size of the balloon is variable, allowing the buffer air zone to expand or retract (the air zone between the veil and the facade grows when more air is inflated into the super pressure balloon). Air coming from underground cool thermal mass allows to refresh the air contained by the veil to temperate the building’s temperature, which reduces air conditioning consumption and maximizes patient comfort. At night the veil may be lifted up and the balloon deflated.
The project’s first version envisaged a spinnaker, very much like a headsail, that would protect the building from direct sunlight and spin around it according to the sun’s position. Ascending hot air would keep the spinnaker up in the air (see early renderings). For practical reasons, a parachute covering and inflatable balloon were chosen instead because they were easier to control under wind storms and simpler to manage since they have a constant position throughout the day.