A Hearing-Inspired Medical Office Building

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Gatehouse Nov19 5

“In general, the site was a bit constrained,” says Reinaldo Venancio, LEED AP. “It almost dictated the shape of the building. It was a happy coincidence that the shape of the site almost looks like an ear.”

Venancio, who is a principal at Houston-based Powers Brown Architecture, says that because the medical office building (MOB) he’s speaking of is for an ear, nose and throat specialist. Situated on a chunk of land wedged between an office building and McDonald’s Falls Church, Va., the location was selected for its proximity to the large Inova Fairfax Hospital complex.

The Gatehouse Road building comprises a first-floor volume clad in brick that serves as a solid foundation for the upper volume that is clad in lighter metal composite material. The ground floor is retail space for hearing equipment and the upper floors contain medical offices for Fairfax ENT and Facial Plastic Surgery, a practice that specializes in otolaryngology and facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. “A curtainwall glass panel signals the office use and is expressed as the hollowed-out portion of an aluminum square tube, a metaphorical ear canal,” explains Venancio.

The lower volume responds to the site geometry and the elevated upper volume allows for parking and traffic flow through the site. The design solution also maximizes the floor area ratio. “It was the only option for this site,” says Venancio. “This is an office building that tries to respect the language of the office building. Its use of glass, its use of volume that is adequate for its function.”

On the south elevation, a large curtainwall is recessed 5 feet to mimic the idea of the ear canal. “The whole idea in the metal volume is to make it look like an ear with the glass as an ear drum.” Galaxy Glass and Aluminum Inc., Manchester, N.H., installed the 650 square feet of Dallas-based Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope’s Reliance curtainwall.

Taking advantage of the code requirement for two egress stairs, Venancio designed an exterior stair the breaks the corner of the rectangular volume, but the long roof and deck structures pick up the horizontal lines of the metal paneling above and below the windows. The negative space between the roof and deck fulfill the same design function as the windows in the rectangular volume. The 9,875 square feet of metal composite panels were supplied by Alucoil North America, Manning, S.C., and fabricated and installed by East Coast Metal Systems Inc., Triadelphia, W.Va. The panels are two muted grays that further enhance the sense of lightness in the volume. Picking up further on the sense of sound associated with the building, the pattern of the reveals of the metal panels was inspired by the Doppler effect wave.

“We’ve had a very good reaction about the building,” says Venancio. “People like the building. Everybody likes the composition of the triangular shaped base and linear tube on top. The building is abstract enough that some people view it in different ways. That’s part of the success of the design.”

By Paul Deffenbaugh
Editorial Director
Metal Architecture