UAE, KSA spur Gulf social infra schemes in 2018

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have a number of big-money education, healthcare, and transportation projects under way

Saudi German Hospital has signed an agreement to build a hospital on Al Marjan Island.
Saudi German Hospital has signed an agreement to build a hospital on Al Marjan Island.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud lays the foundation stone.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud lays the foundation stone.
Rendering of Rochester Institute of Technology's campus design.
Rendering of Rochester Institute of Technology's campus design.
Al Reem Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre will be delivered in Q4 2019.
Al Reem Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre will be delivered in Q4 2019.
DP World Cargospeed may revolutionise goods transportation.
DP World Cargospeed may revolutionise goods transportation.

Social infrastructure projects support economic stability in the GCC, and countries are continuing to invest in health, education, entertainment, and transport projects, with the aim of achieving long-term growth and diversification ambitions.

In May 2017, Faithful + Gould's associate director, Michael Connor, said the market should expect a rise in social infrastructure contractor awards from Q4 2017 onwards. 

Indeed, Connor's estimations have materialised in the region. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have continued to make significant investments in social infrastructure projects.

Both countries aim to capture the myriad socio-economic benefits derived from building more schools, hospitals, transport networks, and places of entertainment. And for all social infrastructure projects, there is a primary and secondary benefit: social and economic incentives.

In the following pages, Construction Week explores the top segments for social infrastructure growth in the Middle East.


In Saudi and the UAE, the public and private sectors are working together on social infrastructure.

Abu Dhabi City Municipality signed $24m (AED87m) worth of contracts with property development and investment companies to build social infrastructure projects in the emirate in January 2018.

The contracts included building three recreational playgrounds for workers, a sports complex in Musaffah, and four service stations in residential districts Wathba, Rahba, Shahama, and Falah. 

Another notable project is the $6.5bn (AED24bn) Aljada mega development in Sharjah. Enabling works on the sprawling mixed-use site began in April 2018. Renowned UK firm Zaha Hadid Architects recently won a contract to design the Central Hub of Aljada too. And while this project has many elements, there is a notable social one as well.

Ibrahim Al Nemeh, design director of the UAE-based developer Arada, told Construction Week last year that the project will feature space for extreme sports such as skateboarding and parkour.

“The whole idea is to create an entertainment district focussing on kids and families. There’s going to be a huge kids’ discovery centre, as well as cultural and art components, in addition to cinemas, theatres, and public facilities like libraries and clinics,” he said.

In Saudi Arabia, a number of entertainment-based social infrastructure projects are under way. One that made headlines recently is the country’s plan to build up to 100 cinemas by 2030.

A subsidiary of the country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the Development and Investment Entertainment Company (DIEC), teamed up with US-based AMC to operate the cinemas.

Saudi is complementing its cinema construction with other social infrastructure projects in the entertainment space. In April, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, laid the foundation stone for the 334km² Qiddiya entertainment city project. Complementing Qiddiya is the Six Flags theme park, set to open in 2020.


Saudi Arabia’s private sector will finance the construction and operation of 1,600 schools in the country, according to Education Minister Ahmed Al-Issa. This is part of a public-private partnership (PPP) between the Saudi government and contractors to build and manage kindergartens and primary, intermediate, and secondary schools in Jeddah and Mecca.

"We are aiming to supplement the direct government support for school buildings by a partnership with the private sector in the construction and operation of the schools," Ahmed Al-Issa said.

In the UAE, Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ) will manage architecture, interior design, and mechanical, engineering, and plumbing (MEP) work for the Arcadia Secondary School project, which will house 800 pupils.

The new building will be next door to Arcadia Preparatory School in Jumeirah Village Triangle, Dubai, which GAJ designed. Construction of the secondary school includes a swimming pool, football pitch, and a rooftop basketball court.

In January 2018, the Rochester Institute of Technology outlined its $136m (AED500m) project to build a new campus in Dubai’s Silicon Oasis.

Spanning 129,000m², it will accommodate 4,000 students and will be built in two phases: the first is set for a 2019 handover and will cost $54m (AED200m). The second phase will start in 2023 and cost $82m (AED300m) to build.

Meanwhile, Emirates Red Crescent provided funds to two schools in Yemen this year.


Dubai expects to have an extra 12 private hospitals built by 2020, according to a statement by the Dubai Health Authority. 

New hospitals will provide 875 beds and bring the total number of private hospitals in Dubai to 38. At the time of DHA’s announcement nearly 10 months ago, it said seven existing hospitals were undergoing expansion to include 750 beds.

One project nearing completion is the Mediclinic Parkview Hospital in Dubai, which contractor ASGC said was on track for completion on Q4 2018.

ASGC won the main contract in 2015 to build the 46,500m² hospital, which will cater to Dubai south.

Plans have also been announced to build the Al Reem Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi, based on the city’s Reem Island.  German firm Vamed is responsible construction and will build the hospital over multiple phases.

In a demonstration of the close ties between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the latter will build a 100-bed hospital in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.

Saudi German Hospital signed an agreement to develop the hospital on Al Marjan Island, which is expected to be operational in early 2019.

Saudi is home to one of the most prominent medical projects in the GCC – the Security Forces Medical Centre in Riyad. This $7bn building project has been described as the biggest medical investment in the Gulf. It will provide medical care to four million Saudis, mainly the Ministry of Interior’s employees and their families.


One of the most high-profile social transport infrastructure developments was recently made in the Middle East when Aldar signed an agreement to bring the ultra-fast hyperloop system to Abu Dhabi.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between Aldar Properties and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (Hyperloop TT).

The MoU will see both firms collaborate to develop an urban centre within Aldar's Seih Al Sdeirah land bank, close to its recently launched master-development, Alghadeer.

Separately, Virgin Hyperloop One teamed up with Dubai port operator DP World to create a new company called DP World Cargospeed that aims to transform the cargo industry. The new company will build a hyperloop system to transport goods globally at the speed of a jet, meaning a consumer could by a product from anywhere in the world and receive it within 14 hours.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia will also have a rail network between the two countries up and running by 2021.

"By the end of December 2021 we will have a connection between us and the Saudis," Abdullah Salem Al Kathiri, director general of the Federal Authority for Land and Marine Transport, said at a conference in Dubai in March 2018.

Also in Saudi Arabia, the Haramain High-Speed Rail project will start running in Q3 2018.

Haramain Rail's speed exceeds 300km/h, and its length spans 450km, making it the Middle East's fastest.

Most popular


Deadline approaches for CW Oman Awards 2020 in Muscat
You have until 20 January to submit your nominations for the ninth edition of the


CW In Focus | Inside the Leaders in KSA Awards 2019 in Riyadh
Meet the winners in all 10 categories and learn more about Vision 2030 in this
CW In Focus | Leaders in Construction Summit UAE 2019
A roundup of Construction Week's annual summit that was held in Dubai this September

Latest Issue

Construction Week - Issue 765
Jun 29, 2020