Optical illusion

The welcoming design of Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai is both serene and stylish.

Creating the correct lighting balance is vital for the visually-impaired patients to feel at ease
Creating the correct lighting balance is vital for the visually-impaired patients to feel at ease

Designing for the medical care industry is always fraught with logistical practicalities and when the renowned British eye hospital, Moorfields, planned to open a branch in Dubai expectations were high. Creating a clinic that befitted the British institution but yet incorporated the very latest technology within a stylish environment, suitable for the region, was paramount. Dr Chris Canning, chief executive and medical director, Moorfields Dubai, was entrusted with supervising the launch. He explains: "It is really important to have trust in the design firm you appoint. Hamilton Design was chosen as the interior designer because the chemistry was really good between us. We outlined the brief to make it clear but very broad. Mohamed [Kafel, design team leader, Hamilton Design] understands a lot about healthcare, which was very important."

Kafel is no stranger to the intricacies of designing for the care industry, with a host of previous medical centres in his portfolio and a hospital project in Fujairah lined up to start imminently. He says: "I have found that what differentiates clinics in this region to elsewhere in the world, is that here the clients don't like to project a medical sterile image, they want to give the feeling and service of a five star hotel, to put patients at ease, which in turn aids recuperation and makes the patients feel better. I always aim to create a warm and friendly environment. Moorfields is a very specialised part of healthcare design as people are often quite squeamish about eyes and so these patients needed settling and soothing more than with just a general medical clinic."

The principal criteria for the design was that the facility was planned with people with sight problems always in mind. The patients visiting Moorfields may have every type of eye condition from short sightedness to clients that are registered blind.

Kafel explains: "All the circulation and patterns and traffic flow had to be very easy and operate with the least amount of complexity. The space plans and the matrices of the entire space were done collaboratively with the client. We worked incredibly closely together during the planning stages. The brief was technical in terms of layout but then very open regarding the design, I was very free to create the concept and colour schemes myself."

Kafel took the Moorfields crest as the basis of his inspiration for the overall design concept. "The crest has two peacocks in it, with their fantastic tails spread out, and as the 'eye' is the symbol of the peacock's tail, I thought this an apt theme to centre on for the design of Moorfields in Dubai." Kafel then manipulated the motif, integrating it into the custom-designed carpet; projecting it onto the columns; the illuminated ceiling in the main waiting room and the reception desk in the entrance foyer. "I took the geometrics of the image and played with it," he adds.

He had to be particularly careful with the perimeters of the surfaces in the hospital. It is very important people with sight problems can distinguish between the edges of walls, doors and tabletops. To understand the depths of a space, perspectives have to be very solidly established as well. Kafel put a plinth of different coloured wood along the edges of the doors and the door surrounds. He says: "We had to play with a lot of contrast in terms of colours, textures, materials and lighting, where light can be manipulated according to the time of day and type of room and situation. Certain areas are different, colours are warmer, to distinguish between waiting room, consultant rooms and the clinics."

Canning adds: "Lighting is vitally important. Too dim and too bright are equally as unsuitable for the visually impaired, the balance has to be just right. We needed a lot of flexibility with the lighting controls so that we could adapt the brightness depending on the patient's requirements."

For the furniture, Kafel chose chairs by Moroso throughout the clinic: "Moroso is a great company, it offers very contemporary Italian furniture by world famous designers and architects that have designed collections and items for them," he enthuses.

He opted for stylish zippered upholstered seats in the admin waiting area. While the chairs in the large waiting room, are by the British designer Ron Arad for Moroso. "This is a very iconic chair called the Little Albert," (part of Arad's Victoria and Albert Collection). "The clients wanted the furniture to be able to support elderly patients, be sturdy and with high arms so that patients can grasp the sides and pull themselves up, and these chairs were perfect for this." The chairs in the VIP area are by Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola for Moroso: "She's a fantastic designer, very much of the moment," Kafel comments.

Part of the criteria of healthcare design is that all the materials used are anti-bacterial fabrics that are washable, sustainable, durable and easily maintained. Kafel says: "Moroso used this material that was established by DuPont that has all of these qualities and they matched the brand colours that we wanted." He used Corian by Dupont for the surfaces for hygiene reasons, and its flexibility of application.

Similarly great care was taken when specifying the carpet from the German company Anker. "It usually supplies carpet to the aviation industry for aeroplanes as its carpet specifically helps repel air-borne germs and bacteria, and is easily cleaned, which is perfect for what we wanted. We designed the peacock design to add interest. We had to be very creative with the budget as so much of the budget went on the technical and medical equipment, so we tried to add creative touches in any small, inexpensive, way we could."

One example of this is the oversized portrait adorning the entrance wall to the hospital. The building in Dubai Healthcare City where Moorfields is located is the Al Razi Building, named after Abu Bahr Mohammed ibn Zakaria al Razi, an Iranian physician who is widely considered one of the greatest alchemists and healers of all time. A large image of Al Razi examining a child with measles is a fitting background to the reception desk in Moorfields entrance foyer.

With almost 100 different rooms, the challenge to create an aesthetically attractive functional hospital was immense. Canning aims to welcome an impressive 20,000 out-patients a year and to complete in the region of 4,000 operations, so a design that worked with the doctors was imperative. The design process started at the end of September 2006, site works began in January 2007 and the project was completed at the end of May 2007.

Canning concludes: "We wanted the hospital to look special. We are targeting high net worth individuals who would ordinarily fly to the UK or Singapore for their specialist eye treatment and we wanted to provide them with a facility here in Dubai that has the Moorfields reputation for excellence but on their doorstep."

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