'Plastic bag' hospital wins green award

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ONE OF the most energy-efficient hospitals in the NHS has won the Green Building of the Year award, sponsored by the Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association and the Independent on Sunday.

Wansbeck Hospital, near Ashington in Northumberland, is the latest fruit of a 10-year research programme by the Department of Health to cut energy consumption, which has been growing rapidly, partly because of the spread of personal computers.

Costing pounds 25m, it was completed last year and is the second prototype energy-saving hospital: the first was St Mary's on the Isle of Wight.

Wansbeck, designed by the architects Powell Moya, aims to cut a typical hospital's energy costs by half. Among its innovations is a continuous polythene membrane in the structure which cuts draughts by 85 per cent and means air changes are reduced from 2.5 an hour to 0.3 an hour. The hospital has been labelled 'a building in a plastic bag'.

The runner-up in the award was the Sheiling Community Centre at Ringwood in Hampshire, designed by F Feilden Clegg architects and with services by M S Frise. It was highly commended by the judges as an ideal low-tech building. The centre, used as a cafe shop and meeting place by a community for the mentally handicapped, is an expression of 'environmental healing'. It combines organic architecture with natural materials and a sense of intimacy with the landscape.

Wansbeck Hospital was praised by the judges for making the most of its exposed and windy site. It has its own 100- kilowatt wind turbine, which serves both as a highly distinctive landmark - a source of pride to local people - and a power source, supplying almost one-tenth of the hospital's energy needs.

Inside, extensive use has been made of natural daylight. Wards have been placed on the first floor, with broad views over the landscape and inner courtyards provide glimpses of water and greenery. Colour schemes reflect the elements - earth and sea, for instance - and walls are devoted to local art. There are only two lifts, encouraging people to use stairs and stay healthy.

The Sheiling Centre expresses the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophical movment, who believed in the unity of man and nature. It combines energy efficiency with glowing, 'therapeutic' interiors - an atmosphere enhanced by bright colour washes and natural materials such as cedar, oak, beech, sisal and terracotta. A 'floating' roof means that surrounding trees are visible from the interior shop, cafe and meeting-areas.

Outside, the building nestles in a wooded bank, extending the natural contours of the landscape, and loops an arm around a half-hidden courtyard. Rainwater from the roof feeds a wildlife pond. The centre is oriented to make the most of the afternoon sun, 'scooping up its golden glow'.

The awards were presented at the Natural History Museum in London last week. The competition, in its third year, is also supported by the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers and the Building Services Research and Information Association.

(Photograph omitted)