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Analysis: Experts reveal how healthcare design has developed over the years

Analysis: Experts reveal how healthcare design has developed over the years

From new-build facilities to renovated units, regional experts and designers share their recent projects and products and talk about how healthcare design has changed over the years.

In recent years, contemporary hospital design has moved away from the sterile institution style toward medical facilities that feel more inviting, user-friendly and convenient to visitors. Healthcare design, however, is vital not just for patients’ wellbeing and visitors’ experience but also for the economics of an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Following the client’s brief to provide an economical and welcoming design of an international standard, interior design firm dwp has recently designed selected areas for the 70-bed Prime Hospital in Dubai. The circulation through spaces and the need to ensure a welcoming environment for both patients and visitors was carefully considered by designers. In a move away from the usual white work surfaces in public areas, dwp made use of warm colours, natural elements and soft lighting.


Reception area is more reminiscent of a hotel than a hospital.

“The idea is to promote wellness and wellbeing, rather than the notion of the purely clinical aspect of healthcare,” says Dima Shibly, senior interior designer of dwp. “The design also addressed the functionality of the reception areas and provided traditional and open-style desks in the consultation rooms.”

The scope of the project included interior design for the main entrance lobby and atrium, the emergency room reception, the radiology reception, corridors, nursing stations, pharmacy, consultation rooms, and the paediatrics reception alongside deluxe and VIP patient rooms.

“In contrast with many hospital facilities that feel overly clinical and uninviting, the aim of the design of Prime Hospital was to create a sense of wellbeing, which was generated through the creation of simple, efficient and peaceful spaces,” she says.


The hospital offers comfort and convenience for both patients and their relatives.

The layout of Prime Hospital is kept very simple and clear to ensure easy movement, while clear wayfinding ensures staff and patients can easily navigate through the building. The lobby, situated in the middle of the hospital, had to ensure easy access to all sections.

“The design encourages a feeling of arriving in a luxury healthcare facility with the reception more reminiscent of a hotel than a hospital,” adds Shibly.

The lobby displays sofa seating and a grand feature guides those arriving straight to the reception desk. To reinforce the luxury and premium impression of Prime Hospital, the lobby makes use of high-quality materials such as timber veneers, onyx stone for the reception desk, marble flooring and glass. Space under the escalator is used to house ATMs and a shop is also present at the entrance.


Musalla Medical Centre in Dubai was refurbished by Al-Futtaim Interiors.

Shibly says: “The patient rooms were designed to give the impression of a comforting hotel guest room rather than a typical clinical hospital ward. Our design is modern and warm and the rooms include a convertible sofa bed for the comfort and convenience of the relatives of patients.”

Refurbishing and rebranding

Serving over 1.3 million patients a year, healthcare provider Avivo Group currently owns and operates 32 medical facilities in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Kuwait. Al-Futtaim Interiors was recently appointed to completely refurbish six of its UAE-based clinics.

“Hospital architecture, designs and fit-outs have transformed over time, from the once sterile white walls and stark decor to vibrant colours and eye-catching elements on the interior and exterior,” says Chan Abraham, national sales manager at Al-Futtaim Interiors, who oversaw the projects. “These are environments where functionality and design must go hand-in-hand.”


The reception counter at the the German Medical Centre was designed to blend in with the new brand image.

Musalla Medical Centre in Dubai was the first facility to go through a complete makeover. Based on the client’s brief, the facility was redesigned and the wooden finishes in the reception were replaced with vibrant glossy acrylic blue and white hues in line with the new brand tone of Avivo Group.

“The colour and shades of the medical centre were selected to give the visitors and patients a very comfortable and relaxed feel,” explains Abraham. “The biggest challenge was working in an operational facility which drastically restricted the work timings and also the fact that the facility was located on the 15th floor, which presented a lot of logistical difficulties. However, the work was planned and executed well in time to the utmost satisfaction of the client.”


Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital.

Al-Futtaim Interiors also refurbished the German Medical Centre in Dubai. As the facility is located in the Dubai Health Authority compound, access to the site had multiple restrictions and work could only be carried out at night. Since it was an active clinic, the premises had to be neat and clean and in a workable state every morning so that the daily operations were not disrupted.

“The brief was to highlight and focus on the new brand identity and improve the visibility of the clinic as it is located within the compound along with many other premium facilities,” says Abraham. “The reception counter and the wall shading were all designed to blend in with the new brand image and emphasise the group’s new identity.”


GEZE Slim Range for internal doors at Al Jalilah Hospital.

For the New National Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi, Al-Futtaim Interiors refurbished the mezzanine floor while taking into account that the entire building, which is presently a medical centre, would be converted into a hospital in the near future.

Abraham says: “Keeping in mind that the facility will be turned into a fully-fledged hospital at a later stage, the large open spaces in the receiving and lobby area were retained. Essential space planning was proposed for proper queuing for patients and visitors. The entire set of walls was proposed to be replaced with glossy acrylic finishes in line with the new brand identity. The reception desks were redesigned to give a welcoming feel to the visitors. Large areas of plain walls were created with focus lights for future branding.”

Smart solutions

Nowadays, healthcare facilities need to be flexible and expandable in terms of design and adhere to the needs of people in a clear and welcoming way. Charles Constantin, managing director of Geze Middle East, a company which creates customised solutions for door, window and safety technology, explains that economic functionality and a feeling of well-being are the focus of hospitals and care institutions.

He comments: “All requirements specific to the healthcare sector are taken into account – from universal access to complying with applicable laws and guidelines.

“From a design perspective, there are several important factors to consider. The first is the service provided to every patient. We also have to consider efficient practices when it comes to the technology employed, value for money and durability. We also need to keep in consideration the flexibility of the design.”

For the newly built Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital in Dubai, Geze fitted out over 1,500 specialised products, from the Geze Slim Line Range, which provided the facility with fully automated doors for both the entrance area and throughout the hospital’s interior.

Constantin adds: “When we speak of space, walls and bulky partitions are not an option. Transparent glass walls and all-glass facades and entrances can instead create the link between the inner environment and the outer landscape.”

Hospital project designers have to always consider new systems and technologies where the design should be adaptable to future expansions and renovations.

Jonathan Puleio, director of consulting at Humanscale, specialist in healthcare ergonomics, agrees that the stakes are higher in healthcare environments than they are for other work environments.

“In an office environment, poor design can lead to debilitating injuries that have wide-ranging organisational impacts such as lost productivity, increased insurance costs and lowered work performance. In healthcare, however, the implications of poor design are exponentially more severe,” says Puleio.


CoeLux’s artificial skylight mimics the visual appearance of the sun and sky using a solid layer of nanoparticles.

“Designs that contribute to caregiver discomfort, injury or cognitive overload can set off a chain reaction of events ranging from treatment errors, misdiagnosed conditions and even loss of life. The quality of care, patient satisfaction and patient outcomes are all impacted by poor design.”

Puleio adds that he would like to see designers focus more on trying to understand the human factors facing today’s caregivers.

“Designers should consider both the limitations and capabilities of the caregiver throughout the entire process,” he says. “Attention to this will yield innovative solutions that will improve workflow, quality of care and patient health outcomes.”

He also explains that the products designed for healthcare environments should be easy to use and promote low-risk body postures.


CoeLux’s artificial skylight mimics the visual appearance of the sun and sky using a solid layer of nanoparticles.

He says: “A patient’s room for example typically serves multiple functions – a treatment space, a living room, a dining room, a bedroom, a bathroom, etc. Often the design criteria for making each of these spaces successful runs at cross purposes. The lighting conditions required for proper examinations are in conflict with the conditions required for comfortable living spaces.

“Technology integration is another major challenge because multiple systems are required, yet few actually talk to one another. This leads to an enormous amount of clutter in a space that is already too small to begin with,” concludes Puleio.

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