In 1997, when the American Hospital Dubai opened the doors of its modest 100-bed American-style community hospital, the structural feats that would soon define the image of Dubai (man-made islands, indoor ski slopes, and the world’s tallest building) were still just architectural dreams.

In contrast to the furious spirit that would mark the local building industry’s ethos over the next decade—build big, build fast—the American Hospital Dubai focused instead on establishing a well-thought-out master plan that could be implemented over time, allowing assets to be maximized, providing flexibility for evolving programs, and all the while maintaining a campus-like sense of place and organization.

Fifteen years later, with half-completed skeletons of overly ambitious projects dotting the Dubai landscape, the American Hospital Dubai opened a sparkling new bed tower, the crown jewel on a campus that has steadily grown to include more than 350 beds, an outpatient clinic, multiple parking garages, and a solid platform for expanding centers of excellence. 

Setting a vision for the future
A few short years after its opening, American Hospital Dubai was already the preeminent healthcare delivery system and provider of choice for private pay patients in the Dubai marketplace. The hospital was the first in the Middle East to be accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI), reflecting its commitment to bringing the highest quality American standard to healthcare in the region. 

The original, three-story hospital was situated in the northeast corner of the 11-acre site, surrounded by surface parking. Its main entrance faced a landscaped entry plaza featuring a grand fountain. By 2000, increased patient volumes in both outpatient and inpatient services placed growing pressure on the facility and operations alike. AECOM was retained to develop a master plan for continued growth across the site. 

This master plan focused on maximizing the available real estate while, at the same time, creating a vision for campus growth that would support quality healthcare delivery in a patient- and family-friendly healing environment. The plan called for measured growth to be implemented in four phases, responding to current and projected operational needs. Three of those phases were completed in the 10 years that followed.  

  • Phase 1 called for a standalone outpatient facility flanking the western side of the entry plaza, with its own entrance lobby immediately adjacent to the hospital’s main drop-off. This project was designed by another firm and was completed in 2006.
  • Phase 2 was an above-ground parking structure to be built concurrently with the outpatient center along the site’s western perimeter. Not only would this absorb the additional parking demand, but it would preserve valuable real estate needed for the construction of future projects.  
  • Phase 3 called for construction of a new 240-bed tower on the east side of the entry plaza. The tower would also serve as the hospital’s new main entrance with a grand atrium appropriate to the growing campus. “Soft” departments, such as administration, conference, education, admissions, and retail, would also be relocated to the new tower, allowing for backfilled growth of diagnostic and treatment departments in the original building. This project opened in phases from 2010 to 2011.
  • A planned Phase 4 calls for a two-level vertical expansion of the original hospital. Since this construction requires vacating the existing top-floor nursing units, it is planned as the final phase of master plan implementation, so that the temporary decanting of beds can be absorbed within the new bed tower.

Creating continuity and convenience
Architecturally, the master plan recommended that all future additions feature the same material palette as the original building, allowing for differences in scale and articulation appropriate to each building’s function, thus creating a campus with a subtle blend of variety and continuity.

The arrangement of buildings around the main plaza and fountain created a simple entry sequence for vehicular traffic that remained constant throughout the expansion. All entrances—the main patient/visitor, specialty services, and outpatient clinic —are conveniently visible from the moment one arrives on campus.  Parking entrances are immediately adjacent to drop-off areas. 

Pedestrian circulation is organized to allow convenient access throughout the entire campus. All entries feature multiple height lobbies. Connections between these lobbies run along perimeter walls, allowing views toward the adjacent buildings through the exterior landscape. The finished campus features a network of pedestrian streets passing through and along a series of courtyards.

Taking cues from the hospitality industry
The hospital owner’s background in the hospitality industry was a major influence on the overall look and feel of the original campus, and extended into new building design. When we embarked on the design of the new inpatient tower, our charge was to design a building that reflected the hospital’s high-quality standard of care, in a hospitality-inspired environment that would appeal to both local and international clientele.

The building was to provide a clear point of entry, welcoming public spaces, cutting-edge diagnostic and treatment, and a variety of patient room types. The interior spaces needed to reflect a luxurious and welcoming environment on par with a world-class hotel. Rich, timeless architectural materials combined with lush, elegant accents, custom furniture, and dramatic lighting reinforce the hospitality ambiance. 

As the new centerpiece of the campus, the inpatient tower reorients the hospital and provides a new front door via a dramatic, seven-story atrium. It features more than 200 private patient rooms, surgery, pre- and post-operative recovery, a 47-bed intensive care unit (out of which 25 beds are commissioned at this time), a neonatal intensive care unit, a cancer program (including radiation oncology), and two underground parking levels.

A concourse passageway at the ground floor connects the main entry atrium of the new bed tower with the existing hospital, while renovation and expansion of the existing dining area accommodates an increase in patients, staff, and visitors. The 47,000-square-meter expansion more than doubles the bed count of the existing facility. 

Creating an inspirational healing place
By continuing the massing of the adjacent parking structure and clinic, the hospital expansion incorporates and organizes campus buildings into a logical and inevitable whole, with the entry court as the central organizing element of the campus. The main public circulation, with entrances to the new tower, existing hospital and clinic building, wraps compactly about the entry court with views to the gardens and fountain. 

At the head of the entry court, the atrium of the new bed tower becomes the intuitive focal point and obvious entrance to the hospital. Bold architectural elements such as the broad, sheltering overhang and expanse of glass forge a cohesive, unified design. Details such as marble cladding and perforated sunshades create a seamless transition between the existing hospital and the new construction. 

Patient services and amenities such as admitting, patient education, retail, and refreshment are conveniently accessed via the new atrium lobby. Unique, angled, wood-paneled walls allow daylight to enter the patient rooms overlooking the atrium,
while providing a sculptural focal point for the space. The walls and floor surfaces are clad with stone, and the space is accented with large-scale palm trees and dramatic multistory artwork. 

A visual connection from waiting areas on each floor to the atrium and entry court beyond allow for simple wayfinding and intuitive understanding of the building’s layout. A direct elevator connection from the atrium provides convenient access to underground parking.

Providing a supportive environment for staff
The healthcare market in the Middle East is highly competitive, and to capture market share, hospitals must be attractive to both patients and physicians—in terms of overall quality of care, in addition to available amenities, leading-edge technology, high-quality finishes, and larger spaces.

American Hospital Dubai CEO Thomas Murray, FACHE, agrees: “Quality goes beyond processes; it includes the design of our facilities—such as the extra-large private rooms and suites in our new inpatient tower, designed to positively impact clinical outcomes and the patient experience, with carefully planned views and plenty of natural sunlight.” 

The expansion provides all-private rooms off single-loaded corridors, improving patient safety, comfort, and privacy while providing ample support space for staff. Most patient rooms are equipped with ceiling-mounted lifts for patient and staff safety. Sinks in patient rooms promote hand washing. Provisions for large families are provided in both patient spaces and public spaces. Family amenities, such as fully serviced tea kitchens within waiting areas and day rooms, are located throughout the facility. Sleep-in space is provided in all patient rooms to engage family in the care-delivery process. 

A variety of patient rooms appeal to a range of patient types and economic backgrounds. VIP rooms are designed to provide a comfortable and upscale patient and family experience. These rooms feature detailed architectural ceilings, wood-paneled walls, and stone floors. Comfortable, contemporary seating is featured in expansive family zones.

The atrium patient rooms are located adjacent to the seven-story atrium lobby. Each features an overlook at the family zone, allowing access to natural light and views into and through the atrium. These more typical patient rooms feature resilient wood-look flooring, wood casework, and a built-in convertible sleeper at the window edge. 

Adaptability for the future
Flexibility for the future was both a guiding principle of the master plan and a primary driver of the new building design. Modular healthcare planning layouts allow for acuity adaptable spaces and future flexibility. Vertical cores are located to allow the easy transfer of patients within the hospital.

Two patient floors within the bed tower were designed to be shelled space to accommodate future expansion. Due to increased demand, these two floors were fit out during the construction of the new bed tower and now house specialty care beds.

Over its first year of operation, the new bed tower has seen resounding success. The hospital’s high quality of care continues to attract patients, who also appreciate the hospital’s hospitality-inspired, culturally appropriate environment. The VIP patient rooms are a particularly sought-after amenity because of their ability to accommodate multiple family members in the care process.

According to Murray, “Our new bed tower represents a major advance in the development of the hospital campus and a strong signal about the clear focus of American Hospital Dubai on its continued evolution—even during a time of economic uncertainty.”

For other hospitals globally, the lesson of American Hospital Dubai is clear. Adherence to a comprehensive master plan, a deliberate and measured approach to growth, and facility design that meets market demands—combined with a focus on high-quality healthcare delivery—can result in success for the long term.

Like the proverbial tortoise who won the race, American Hospital Dubai bucked an economic downturn and the aggressive development strategies of less-established competitors and came out ahead, primed for the continued delivery of healthcare excellence now and well into the future. 

Jim Curran is Design Principal in AECOM’s Arlington, Virginia, office. He can be reached at Kim Williamson is Interior Design Director in AECOM’s Minneapolis office. He can be reached at