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Abu Dhabi Hospital Balances Modern and Traditional Needs

Aerial view rendering of the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, which is being constructed alond the shore of the Persian Gulf on Al Maryah Island, northeast of mainland Abu Dhabi
Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is being constructed along the shore of the Persian Gulf on Al Maryah Island, northeast of mainland Abu Dhabi. The island is being developed into the city’s new business hub. Courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc./© HDR, Inc.

In realizing the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, designers are challenged to create a state-of-the-art facility that reflects the ancient local culture.

July 30, 2013—In developing a new hospital that will be operated by a medical organization in the United States but located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, designers took a great deal of care to balance the needs of modern medicine with the desire for a facility that reflects the local Islamic culture. The end result is a highly efficient hospital emblazoned with contemporary references to ancient traditions.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is under construction along the shore of the Persian Gulf (Arabian Gulf) on Al Maryah Island (formerly known as Sowwah Island), a roughly 114 ha islet northeast of mainland Abu Dhabi. Mubadala Development Company, a public joint stock company, is transforming Al Maryah into the city’s new central business district, complete with office buildings, residential units, and other developments. As the Abu Dhabi government considered constructing a hospital on the island, it turned to the Cleveland Clinic, a multidiscipline medical center based in Cleveland that also happened to be interested in establishing an international presence.

The two entities formed a partnership, and Mubadala launched an international design competition for the hospital. Informed only that the building would be an Abu Dhabi health system facility with a U.S. operator, competing firms submitted design proposals for the project. Following the multistage design competition, Mubadala awarded the project in 2007 to HDR Architecture, an international design firm headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. “We came up with a design with an understanding of the health-care expertise side as well as the local customs, which made it feel like it had an identity [that] the people of the Emirates could relate to rather than it being a U.S. transplant,” says Mohammed Ayoub, the design principal leading the project for HDR. “That was a good way of approaching the design competition.” HDR retained Magnusson Klemencic Associates, an engineering firm based in Seattle, as the structural engineer. 

 Water level view rendering of the hospital

 The hospital’s patient tower is oriented to provide views of the sea
and maximize the amount of daylight that penetrates the structure,
while a shorter structure along the gulf shore serves as a
hospitality center for patients and their families. Courtesy of HDR
Architecture, Inc./© HDR, Inc.

Working with both the Cleveland Clinic and Mubadala, HDR developed a final design for the hospital, which ended up looking nothing like the firm’s competition entry but followed the same approach of creating a state-of-the-art medical center grounded in local traditions. “The client really wanted something that was iconic and would stand out and be easily identifiable,” Ayoub says. “They wanted something that spoke to where the UAE is heading.” To that end, designers introduced contemporary interpretations of cultural references by focusing on the use of geometry throughout the building rather than incorporating a dome or other obviously Islamic design elements. “Many buildings in the Middle East have Islamic geometry that doesn’t belong there, but they wanted to make it look Middle Eastern,” Ayoub says. “We really wanted to get to the bottom of what does it mean to design within that region in a modern way.”

The 2.5 million sq ft hospital will have 364 beds with the capacity to expand to 490 beds. Designers drew inspiration for the hospital’s configuration from ancient Middle Eastern towns, many having numerous alleyways and courtyards that encouraged travel between various locales. As a result, the hospital will be arranged as stacked blocks, bridges and walkways connecting them. Each block will accommodate a use that correlates with the Cleveland Clinic’s focus on the continuum of care—a concept for integrating and providing care at all levels. The three largest blocks will house the outpatient clinics, the diagnostic and treatment center, and the patient tower. “I don’t believe many hospitals are designed to express the use and function of the spaces,” Ayoub says. “But since we have the clinics and we have the actual hospital, we chose to express these components separately and connect them in a way that works efficiently.”

In addition to the three main blocks, the hospital will have an administrative wing—designed to be converted into additional patient rooms at a later date—and a wing dedicated to the intensive care unit (ICU). Rectangular in shape, these two blocks will cantilever toward the east and west beyond the outpatient clinics and diagnostic and treatment center below. While the ICU block will have a staircase core connecting it to the ground, the administrative block will be a true cantilever, extending approximately 60 ft beyond the lower structures, toward the sea.

 Night rendering of the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi that will comprise stacked blocks, connected by bridges and walkways

 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi will comprise stacked blocks,
connected by bridges and walkways. The arrangement is
designed to mimic the architecture of ancient Middle Eastern
towns. Courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc./© HDR, Inc.

The final block on the campus will be a glass-clad structure known as the gallery. Located along the waterfront, this block will serve as a hospitality center with amenities for patients and the many family members who customarily accompany them. “When people go to the hospital sometimes they bring their family members with them, but not everyone needs to go inside to meet the doctor,” Ayoub says. Instead guests can wait in the gallery or one of several waiting rooms, all designed with the intent to blur the lines between the hospital setting and a hospitality center.

Rising above the ICU and administrative block, the patient tower will be oriented so that its longer sides face east and west to allow for unobstructed views of the sea and natural daylight to penetrate the structure. This is important because research shows that favorable views and sufficient sunlight can help expedite patients’ recovery and reduce the length of their hospital stays, Ayoub says. To further maximize those resources, the tower, as well as the ICU and administrative wing, will be clad in double-glass curtain walls, featuring a distinct diamond pattern—another nod to Islamic culture. “The idea is to allow for ample views to give the notion of kind of a relief from the institutional-driven operation,” Ayoub says.

While the glass cladding has many benefits, it would be natural to assume it might cause a drain on energy use. But the innovative double curtain wall system actually allows the building to “breathe,” forming a protective barrier against solar gain. Exhausted air from the mechanical system in the building’s lower level will be released into the 5 ft wide cavity between the two curtain walls. “We’re creating a thermos flask barrier where the exhausted air from the mechanical system will actually blow into this cavity, which will create the thermal barrier and therefore help lower our cooling costs,” Ayoub explains. The system is expected to reduce the patient tower’s mechanical loads by as much as 33 percent compared to a traditional structure of the same size, he says.

The clinic buildings will be clad in glass-covered onyx at the “human touch level,” he says, which will gradually blend into a polymer resin cladding toward top of the building; the diagnostic and treatment block will be clad in a steel-aluminum alloy.

Other sustainable features of the facility will include a solar system to heat the building’s water and green roofs to not only capture rainwater but also serve as tranquil places for patients, staff, and guests to frequent. The building is expected to achieve at least a gold level in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design rating system.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is expected to be completed by spring of 2014. When the center is finished, designers hope the city and region embrace it as a contemporary expression of Islamic architecture. The UAE’s “aspiration is to be a progressive state, eventually, and fully industrialized,” Ayoub says, adding that he hopes the hospital helps advance those goals.



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