Today, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City is a sprawling urban park of clinics, blood banks, and long-term care units separated by wide swaths of parking located right in Abu Dhabi’s green heart. The oldest and most prominent of these buildings is Abu Dhabi Central Hospital, a yellow brick fortress erected in the late 1960s, and already scaled down from a 200-bed facility to a trauma centre and outpatient unit.
In 2013, the entire block will be razed and replaced by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s reimagined Sheikh Khalifa Medical City. In both its aesthetic – bright and modern, while incorporating Islamic architectural motifs – and in its ambitious scope, the campus is future forward. It will comprise three hospitals in one: a 280,000-square-metre, 838-bed complex carefully organized to bring the comforts of home into a facility that maximizes the use of the resources inside. When finished, it will be the flagship of the UAE’s government-run healthcare system, an answer to the city’s growing and aging local population and a medical tourism hotspot for international patients seeking the best possible care.
The new City is conceived as a massive two-storey plinth containing the new trauma centre and other central functions. From this plinth rise three “bed towers” (assigned to women’s, pediatric, and general care) to provide longer-term treatment. Each of these towers is branded with its own distinct visual identity, both inside and out, with traces of these identities incorporated into the unifying “connective tissue” of the plinth below to aid with wayfinding.
The lower structure houses all the major medical functions of the City, from the ER to the operating theatres. However, SOM has taken a novel approach to crafting the visitor experience: also included in the plinth is a series of gardens, both rooftop and courtyard, and a “town centre” that includes lobbies, cafés and restaurants, retail and education spaces branching off from these green corridors.
All these functions are unified by an approach not unlike that of a hotel, with a subtle division between “back of house” functions and a visitor experience designed to make one’s stay as pleasant as possible. To that end, public spaces are crafted to nurture a sense of community; interiors are finished using natural materials to augment a feeling of serenity, and the greenery-filled interior courtyards at the heart of the public spaces are shaded by patterned scrims to ensure a diffuse distribution of natural light.
Of course, green technologies like solar panels, natural lighting, and passive cooling systems will be incorporated to mitigate the desert heat while minimizing energy costs, placing the City on target for a LEED-equivalent Estidama sustainability certification.