Hospital Therapy

Zeinab Saiwalla speaks to SOM architects, Mustafa Abadan and Scott Habjan, about the inspiration behind Sheikh Khalifa Medical City’s hospitality-driven facility

From the world’s tallest tower, Burj Khalifa, to the highly-acclaimed engineering marvel, Cayan Tower, US-based architectural firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) has time and again set precedents for innovative design in the Middle East.

It came as no surprise then, that the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA) commissioned SOM to design a landmark healthcare project in Abu Dhabi. Complete with a town centre, 5.5 acres of centrally located public green space and 850 patient beds, the project seeks to transform perceptions about both the healthcare environment and patient experience.

This new facility is planned to rise on the site of the existing Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC), which will undergo a phased demolition to make way for future hospital-related facilities and mixed-use development on the expansive 300,000m2 plot.

But more than just another massive medical complex, the vision for the project is to build three hospitals under one roof so that SKMC will come to be a ‘city within the city’, explains Mustafa Abadan, principal, SOM and design partner for SKMC.

“The client has very ambitious goals and has looked to us to create something special and unique, which is what we set out to do with this project,“ adds Scott Habjan, associate director, SOM and senior designer for SKMC.

Tasked with this challenge, SOM’s architects chose to design the trio-hospital complex, which consists of a general hospital with a level-one trauma centre, a women’s hospital and a pediatric hospital, with a keen focus on hospitality.

The reason for this, as Abadan explains, is due to the fact that, “the whole notion of healthcare around the world is beginning to change from basically taking care of sick patients when they have really gotten ill, to being able to take care of them before they get into the hospitalisation phase.”

“As such the idea behind these plans is to make a hospital less institutional looking and more hospitable because we know that a hotel environment is generally more soothing for people,” says Abadan.

Practically, as Habjan explains, there is a very concerted effort in the design of the hospital to create a separation between the front-of-house and back-of-house operations. The patient and visitor experience are carefully controlled, to minimise exposure to the more institutional service components of the facility.

For example, both staff and materials enter from very discreet locations and are vertically distributed so that they go directly to their point of operation, allowing for a sense of tranquility and serenity to pervade the hospital’s public spaces.

“To the degree that you have a separation of the public face and the operating face of the hospital, and the more those things can be kept independent of one another, the more one can create a hospitality- like environment for the patients,” elaborates Abadan.

Although there was considerable effort to incorporate a hospitality environment in SKMC’s design, Abadan notes that because SKMC is a public hospital, the architects were especially cognizant not to overdo the hotel-like atmosphere.

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