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Designing from the Heart

Designing from the Heart

Aidan Imanova speaks to Amr Metwally, head of architecture division PM&C department at Hamad Medical Corporation, about working in the field of healthcare design

World renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright once said: “A great architect is not made by way of a brain nearly so much as he is made by way of a cultivated, enriched heart.”

Amr Metwally, head of architecture division PM&C department at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) in Doha, Qatar, believes just that. After having worked on over 20 healthcare projects, Metwally confesses that there is no place for ego in an architect’s mind, only compassion and respect for all those involved and affected by the endeavor.

“Architects like to think of themselves as masters of the work but it should not be the case. Everyone in the project is a master and we are all working for the patient,” he says. “In healthcare, you can never say this is my building. It is always our building.”

It came as no surprise then, when Metwally humbly recounted all those involved in the design and construction of Hamad Medical Corporation’s PET CT Centre in Doha, a project for which he received the Best Hospital Design Award (Built) at the Hospital Build & Infrastructure show in Dubai.

“For the concept we tried to reflect the different functions of the building on the elevation directly such as glazing the windows where required to cool and shade the building,” outlines Metwally.

He adds that Islamic patterning was an important aspect of the design, a trend that is implemented more heavily in Doha than in Dubai. “It is kind of a basic thing you do in Doha but we tried to work it in a way that was not too obvious. We added subtle Islamic patterns throughout and enforced Islamic and Arab identity through calligraphic art works,” explains Metwally of his team’s winning design.

According to Metwally, one of the most essential principles, when it comes to hospital design, lies in ensuring that a sense of peace and calm is successfully communicated throughout the facility. In relation to the PET CT project, Metwally explains: “We tried to keep everything very light by using white with maple wood veneer.

Even the patterning is white on white with very subtle lighting.”

He continues: “Many people think that hospital design is easy and not challenging at all, but to design a good hospital you need to incorporate design elements from hotels, residential projects and commercial buildings.”

Before specialising in hospital architecture, Metwally was involved in a myriad of projects including several luxury residences in Dubai, commercial projects in Saudi and mosques in Egypt and UAE.

“Nobody really chooses to become a hospital architect. It happens unexpectedly, as it did for me,” he modestly admits.

Metwally was working as a senior design architect for Burt Hill in Dubai, when he was introduced to the field of healthcare design and slowly carved a niche in that area.

“To me, designing hospitals is a lot more rewarding because you see the direct impact a hospital has on people’s lives,” adds Metwally. However, he admits that when he first started he found the work boring in comparison to the excitement of designing tall commercial buildings and high-rise residential towers.

“Ten years ago, we had low quality healthcare in the region, not only architecturally but also in terms of the medical service. That has slowly changed and we now have great healthcare designs because you cannot provide good medical services with badly designed and constructed facilities,” Metwally shares.

Although the field of hospital design has become more rewarding, the rapid changes in technology makes healthcare design all that more challenging, Metwally explains during the hour-long interview.

“Technology is moving too fast in healthcare and every day you find a different kind of healthcare facility with new technologies, new standards and new requirements so you really cannot ever design the same building twice.”

While he admits that technology plays a crucial part in guiding his design principles, Metwally strongly believes that holistic design requires the incorporation of feedback from all the hospital users so that the facility can be truly user-friendly.

To achieve this, Metwally spends time with recently hospitalised individuals to hear their suggestions about facilities and spaces that could enhance their medical experience. “I present projects to the patients so that they can give me feedback,” Metwally shares.

He is quick to add, however, that hospital design is not only about patients, although they tend to be the biggest stakeholders. “A lot of hospitals aim to only respond to patient needs, forgetting the families who come to visit and the nurses and staff who provide support services.”

Citing the example of the PET CT centre, Metwally says: “We designed a courtyard for the doctors because we did not want to only take care of the patients but the doctors as well. The courtyard has a shading device and we put a hundred-year-old olive tree from Lebanon in it to give the hospital a sense of tranquility.”

He continues: “There is a new approach happening right now which people are calling ‘healing by design’ instead of healing by medicine. I see that governments in the Middle East are starting to understand it.”
A testimony to this, Metwally shares, is the fruition of the Al Marfraq hospital in Abu Dhabi. The facility, designed while Metwally was at Burt Hill, is set to open next year and includes gardens and valleys, features usually unheard of in the healthcare industry until recently.

“You would never find a healthcare project worth AED 2.4 billion 10 years ago, as is the case with Al Mafraq, but now this is slowly becoming the norm,” he explains. “It is very common to walk around a hospital and feel like you are in a hotel.”

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