Medical clinic in the Dallas suburbs features a contemporary facade of perforated metal panels.
When Legacy ER commissioned 5G Studio to design an emergency care facility in Allen, Texas, the architects seized the opportunity to define an emerging building type. One of a growing number of freestanding emergency care centers (FECCs) popping up across the United States, the Legacy ER in Allen combines an emergency room and urgent care clinic under one roof. The Allen facility is the second collaboration between the care provider and 5G Studio, who also designed Legacy ER’s FECC in Frisco. “Based on the Frisco project they saw it as a strength to their brand to design an outstanding facility,” said partner Yen Ong. “Architectural identity is one of their brand hallmarks.” Inspired both by traditional domestic architecture and the image of a physician’s robe, Legacy ER – Allen’s sculptural zinc facade punctures the monotony of its suburban surroundings.
In Allen, “like in any suburban context, you have McMansions and little to excite you,” said Ong. “We took the opportunity to reflect on the identity of the organization, and to try to create an episodic architectural intervention into that suburb.” The architects looked at the site’s context and saw a lot of single-family homes with pitched roofs. “We said, ‘Let’s start there,'” recalled Ong. “We began to take the idea of the sloped roof, but reflect it in a modern and a new way.” They experimented with the form, and hit upon the idea of building a robe—like the physician’s white coat—to enclose the program. The robe lifts at strategic points to create entrances and a mezzanine-level conference room.
As at the Frisco facility, the designers chose zinc for Legacy ER – Allen’s envelope. “In Frisco, we convinced Legacy ER that zinc is a good reflection on their brand,” said Ong. “It’s sustainable, very durable, and malleable. It had all the qualities we want and allows a lot of aesthetic freedom.” Zinc holds up well under Texas’s regular hailstorms. “What we found in the first building is that even if the hail scratches or dents it, it’s surprising how resilient it is—it doesn’t look like a damaged car body,” said Ong. Ong also notes that zinc, despite its cool grey color, conveys an impression of warmth, an important consideration for a facility that serves people in crisis.
In Frisco, 5G Studio found that the brightness of the interior lights at night rendered the exterior as dark and closed. To avoid a similar problem at the Allen clinic, they perforated the cladding and installed an efficient lighting system behind it. “The zinc panels essentially become light fixtures, emitting diffuse light on the exterior,” said Ong. Gradients in the perforations insure a uniform distribution of light across the plane, to prevent glare. During the day, the perforations allow daylight to filter in through overhangs on the west and east sides of the building, where high-performance glazing (fritted or placed high for privacy) provides additional protection against solar gain.
Both the cladding itself and the roofing challenge the notion that advanced forms necessitate advanced construction techniques. “The zinc itself employed a very typical assembly; the roofing is standard metal roofing,” said Ong. “We purposefully selected the very common method of standing seam metal roofing, but express it in a different way. We felt like the achievement on the exterior is not, ‘Here’s a sculptural form with an advanced cladding system.’ It’s to reinvent a standard assembly system.”
In contrast to Legacy ER – Allen’s dynamic facade, the building’s interior features blurred edges and soft natural light. The dissimilarity is meant to embody the two sides of the physician’s nature. “We know that the physician owners are very competent, but, more importantly, they are human, and they are very good people. We wanted to reflect that duality in the facility,” said Ong. “To achieve that we employed two different architectural languages: on the exterior, the building has very sharp geometry, which is reflective of the physician’s professionalism and their ability. On the interior, there are gentle curves, and the daylight is diffuse. It’s very gentle on the inside.”
Legacy ER took a risk in selecting a cutting-edge design for a medical clinic located in the Dallas suburbs, said Ong. “As much confidence as our client had coming into the relationship with 5G Studio, we didn’t know how far we could push this next project. Frisco was nowhere close to this,” he said. But the gamble paid off, and the result is a building that, beyond boosting Legacy ER’s brand, sets a new standard for healthcare design. “We felt like this piece will challenge the perception that healthcare architecture is a subset of practice so burdened with technical requirements that it’s nothing more than healthcare architecture,” said Ong. “We hope to contribute to the notion that healthcare architecture is just architecture.”