The most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dubai is home to just over 2 million people from more than 200 different nationalities. An emerging global city with a rapidly growing tourism sector, Dubai is slated to host the 2020 World Expo, the first time the event will be held in the Middle East.
In keeping with the emirate’s ongoing transformation, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA)—a government agency that oversees the healthcare system—has strategic goals to upgrade and expand Dubai’s hospitals to offer citizens, expatriates and regional countries world-class healthcare options.
As a part of this initiative, the DHA launched an invitation-only design competition for a master plan to expand a current facility, the Rashid Hospital, into a leading medical complex. GS&P’s winning proposal took into consideration the logistical challenges of building around—and then replacing—the existing hospital, as well as sustainability in a desert climate, and reflecting the spirit of a city full of iconic architecture.
“There are several medical campuses throughout the city, but Rashid is the flagship hospital,” says Kevin Kim, senior vice president and design principal on the project. To meet DHA’s goals of ensuring excellence in healthcare and promoting Dubai as a destination city for medical services, the city is planning significant expansion to its hospitals.
“With assistance from the government, citizens of the UAE often travel to the United States, Great Britain or Europe for medical care. Likewise, foreigners living and working in the UAE generally travel to their home countries for care. So the government’s goal is to provide world-class healthcare options at home to reverse this trend of outbound medical travel.”
In addition, Dubai officials are working to attract an annual goal of 500,000 medical tourists before 2020’s World Expo, particularly patients from the six countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council: UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, as well as from across the Middle East and North Africa.
“They are aiming high,” says Frank Swaans, senior healthcare planner and principal in charge. “The Rashid medical complex will be a state-of-the-art facility with a goal to make the quality of care second to none in the Gulf region.
A Global Effort
The GS&P design team initially faced the challenge of how to work most effectively across geographic and cultural boundaries. To maintain accuracy and communication throughout the design process, the team used leading-edge collaborative software and video conferencing.
Despite the great distances involved, however, the client preferred personal meetings. Team members recognized that extended trips would allow for valuable collaboration and provide more time to build relationships.
“In the Middle East, they develop relationships,” says Swaans. “They want to see you, shake hands, have a meal. So we traveled there frequently.
“As the project moves into its next phases and construction begins, we will have even more of a local presence. Projects such as this are international in scope, with team members working in multiple hemispheres. But ultimately, success is achieved on site.”
Reinventing Regional Healthcare
Organized into several functional zones, the large, urban campus is intended to be a cornerstone of the regional healthcare delivery system developed for Dubai. The current master plan calls for a 900-bed tertiary hospital, multispecialty outpatient facilities, a conference and education center, research space, a central utility plant, and a 3,000-space parking structure—all on the north side of the campus.
The south side of the complex will encompass rehabilitation facilities, two luxury hotels, villas for physician consultants, six apartment buildings for staff members, a 2,400-space parking structure, and a retail market.
“The north campus is hospital-related, and the south campus is more residential,” says Kim. “The south campus will also have a shopping mall, since everything necessary for creating a good living environment for staff and specialists will need to be imported.”
One of the key challenges facing the GS&P team was crafting a master plan that kept the original Rashid Hospital fully functional during the first phase of construction.
“The replacement hospital will be built first, then we’ll demolish the existing hospital, and in its place there will be a new building with other functionality,” says Kim. “A newer trauma center, currently undergoing renovations, will be the only existing building incorporated into the new layout.
“These two existing facilities ultimately influenced the locations of various other components, and organizing functions and services that need to be located in relation to each other became an extensive challenge.”
The GS&P team tackled the issue through phasing construction, and by creating temporary outpatient areas within the inpatient hospital to be used until the new facilities are built.
A Sustainable, Accessible Oasis
The new hospital complex is scheduled to be operational before the 2020 World Expo, whose theme “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” will highlight sustainability and mobility, two ideas captured in GS&P’s design.
Because the UAE is in a desert environment with limited resources, the DHA wanted all of the facilities to incorporate environmentally sustainable features.
“Form and function work hand in hand. That’s the essence of green design,” says Swaans. “We looked at the sustainability goals and then devised solutions to elegantly combine form and function in an environmentally responsible medical center that will also operate at optimal efficiency.”
Water conservation is crucial in Dubai, which receives less than 6 inches of rainfall annually, and depends on desalination of seawater. Rashid Hospital complex’s design will allow that scant rainfall to be collected and used for process water. Green roofs will improve energy efficiency by absorbing the sun’s heat, filter pollution from the crowded city, reduce water runoff and provide a quieter and more attractive environment.
“We created this curved, gently sloping green roof that connects all three major inpatient towers, then runs across the south campus and connects the hotel and rehab centers,” says Kim. “As the master plan moves into construction, we’ll further customize the green roofs for optimal effect in the extreme environment.”
Taking advantage of Dubai’s ample sunshine, extensive rooftop solar panels will generate part of the energy needed for the complex. In a city where summertime temperatures can reach or exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit, keeping building interiors cool was also key. The GS&P design incorporates a highly efficient exterior envelope and window glazing to minimize heat gain, and geothermal systems can provide indoor cooling.
“Our solar studies will help best determine where to use windows, and where to replace them with thermal mass walls that absorb the heat of the day and radiate it at night,” says Swaans.
Because the new medical complex will be more than a kilometer in length, and will be surrounded by crowded neighborhoods, the design team had to devise a carefully organized traffic pattern to reduce congestion and carbon emissions, as well as facilitate patient movement.
“The medical complex is in a central downtown location with heavy traffic, so we wanted to take advantage of an existing mass transit station on the west side of the north campus,” notes Kim. “The most circulation will be outpatient and certain education-related functions, so we placed those buildings nearest the metro station, directly connected by a bridge.”
Streamlining flow, vehicular traffic will be organized and separated to provide convenient access to each functional zone—inpatient, outpatient, rehabilitation, hotel, retail, commercial and support services.
“The public and staff circulation is organized along courtyards between buildings, which will provide shade and protection from the desert climate,”explains Kim. “And the retail and cafeteria functions will also be along the courtyards.”
Dubai’s energy consumption per capita is currently among the highest in the world, but the emirate is taking steps toward a greener city. The features incorporated into GS&P’s master plan will help the DHA better manage the medical complex’s effect on the environment.
Channeling the Spirit of Dubai
Dubai is rapidly solidifying its status as a pioneer of new ideas and a hub of global commerce at the heart of a new “Silk Road” that links Asia, Africa and Europe. In addition to creating a world-class healthcare destination, the design team had to remain mindful of architecture trends in Dubai, and fit the master plan into the context of Dubai as a whole.
“Dubai is known for iconic architecture, and has cleverly created this image as one of the most progressive cities in the region via its built environment,” says Kim. “So you have the world’s tallest building, an indoor ski resort, and man-made islands that look like palm trees from above. We understood that this huge campus in a strategic and visible location not only had to make sense as a healthcare facility with the right functionality, but it also had to complement the image of the city.”
The entire complex incorporates traditional Islamic and Middle Eastern design features, and subtly reflects the spirit of the city in unexpected ways.
“Dubai started as a seaside trading port. If you look at the three inpatient towers, they’re oriented toward the Dubai Creek, like ships with unfurled sails,” says Kim. “Among Dubai’s iconic architecture are structures that are only fully understood from an aerial view, like the palm islands. Looking at the new medical complex from above, the arching of the towers and placement of hotels form the star and crescent, an international emblem of Islam. These subtle interpretations were how we infused the design with a feel that unites it with the entire city.”
After winning the design competition, the GS&P team is now working with Dubai officials to launch the first phase of design on the north campus.
“We are only at the beginning of this monumental project, but Dubai anticipates a landmark design that symbolizes its modernity and growing global presence,” says Swaans.
Ultimately, a deep understanding of how to craft memorable structures that go beyond mere functionality is what made GS&P’s master plan design stand out.
“If you’re writing a poem, an understanding of vocabulary and syntax is only the start. What matters is how it comes together as a unifying image and message. In architecture, working out the functionality of a building is just the basics,” says Kim.
“What really makes a difference is how form, function and design come together to create a space that’s not just where people work and live, but is part of the urban fabric; something that inspires people and makes them proud of their city. Our scheme has done that quite well, especially within the context of Dubai.”