Pioneering the present, healing the future

The story of creating Dubai’s first independent multidisciplinary medical research centre.

Article provided by IBI Group

The Al Jalila Foundation Research Centre, opened in 2018 in Dubai Healthcare City, is set to become a beacon for regionally-relevant medical innovation produced by home-grown biomedical researchers. It will focus on the five most pressing regional health challenges: cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity and mental health.

Al Jalila Foundation is a global donor-funded philanthropic organisation dedicated to transforming lives through medical education and research, founded to position Dubai and the UAE at the forefront of medical innovation.

Visioning the project

With the construction of the Al Jalila Children’s Hospital fully funded and well under construction, the board at Al Jalila Foundation focussed attention on the next challenge; the establishment of a local research centre, and their ambition for the project was clear.

It would become the premier scientific research facility in the UAE, designed to nurture a home-grown generation of medical professionals working on ground-breaking research that addresses health challenges prevalent in the region.

Within Al Jalila Foundation, both Professor Galadari and Dr. Abdulkareem Al Solama have been instrumental in championing this project and bringing it to fruition.

Professor Sehamuddin Galadari, Al Jalila Board Member, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee, and Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Cell Biology – College of Medicine & Health Sciences at UAE University, Al Ain, articulated the high-level science and research requirements for the new facility.

Professor Galadari worked closely with Dr. Abdulkareem Al Solama, CEO of Al Jalila Foundation to create a project brief that added commercial space, educational facilities and new HQ facilities for Al Jalila Foundation itself to the science requirements to round out the functions that the new facility would provide.

Situated in the heart of Dubai Healthcare City, the Al Jalila Foundation was endowed a parcel of land specifically to accommodate the new research centre and allowed the establishment of the vision for the project to proceed.

Al Jalila Foundation selected IBI Group and GHD as architects and engineers respectively, to design the project, commencing with a rapid architectural visioning exercise to breathe an air of reality into the aspiration and become a focus for fundraising efforts.

Tony Burley, Project and Design Director for IBI Group developed a strong relationship with the Al Jalila Foundation client team from the outset, quickly becoming a trusted partner to deliver a design, which would meet their high aspirations for this significant project. Dr. Abdulkareem Al Solama and Professor Sehamuddin Galadari, would remain hands-on stewards, and active supporters of the project throughout the development of the design and construction.

Designing for the science of the future with the knowledge of today

Dubai Healthcare City – home to many world leading healthcare focussed tenants – was an ideal location for a new facility focussing on this type of research, but the site itself was unusual and brought specific challenges that required careful study of multiple options and a unique approach to unlock the true value of the site.The site was occupied by the partially completed concrete frame of the administration building for the former Dubai University Hospital. The client’s vision for the new research centre was to incorporate and adapt the existing structure rather than demolish, which meant working with the curved façades and unusual tapering structural grid defined by the crescent shaped building form of the administration building.

Building the vision, enabling the future

The rapid visioning developed options ranging from designs that would complement and be contextual with neighbouring properties, to have a bold iconic approach, which would set it apart as something different at the heart of the DHC campus. Seeing the potential of this facility as a beacon within the district, the client boldly selected the most iconic visual approach. With this approach having buy in at such a senior level, the challenge to the design team became developing the complex programme of functions that the project contained, without straying outside of the expectations already set.

Although the distressed project site added considerable challenges to the planning of the development, the Foundation was committed to achieving ‘sustainable innovation’ across the project.

The high-level brief and project vision were matured into the current design through a comprehensive testing and consultation process, which remained faithful to the key elements of the original vision. The different functions of the diverse ‘vertical villages’ of the buildings were each driving different circulation patterns around the floorplate, with separate access requirements depending on the function, which the original design for a simple office building had not considered. In our test fitting phase, a change on one floorplate type would have negative effects on all other floor-plate types, so we had to work through multiple iterations with the client to find the sweet-spot of maximum utility to the function with minimum compromise.

The building form and appearance is intended as iconic but timeless, with a minimal palette of materials and repeated rectangular curtain wall panelling providing a distinctive mega-grid diamond pattern. The building is topped by back-lit glass panels following the crescent profile, which shroud the plant level and contribute to the varied Dubai roofscape.

The new research centre has three basement levels and 10 floors of above ground accommodation in a crescent-shaped plan defined by the previous building’s structural grid. It has been designed to accommodate biohazard containment Level 2 research laboratories to international best practice standards with specialist secondary laboratory functions varying per floor. The facility also provides underground car parking, building services plant and laboratory technical areas, and office accommodation as well as serving as the Al Jalila Foundation Headquarters. The latter will include hosting facilities for symposia, training events and forums associated with the Foundation’s royal patronage.

The key to unlocking the final planning arrangement came from an ‘architour’ of four similarly sized research facilities at Oxford University, which IBI had programmed and designed. This tour afforded the client first-hand experience of different spatial arrangements and opportunities to discuss the benefits of planning approaches with the building users. During the tours we were able to highlight the critical findings of our “4 Labs – 4 Cities” research project in developing successful research environments. The tour informed the development of the project brief and introduced a number of innovations including:

– The inclusion of social / lounge areas on each laboratory floor to encourage ad hoc discussion and interaction between researchers away from formal laboratory or write up areas.

– The primary laboratory spaces are counter-intuitively located at the heart of the building, away from the external facade

– an arrangement which allows a direct physical link to the supporting specialist laboratories, visual connection to adjacent write up areas, and the transmission of abundant natural light to the primary laboratory via fully glazed division walls. Although we had promoted this approach early in the design process, it was only from the Oxford architour where the client saw a successful example of this type of implementation that they had the confidence to place the lab spaces at the centre of the plan.– A modular façade design of glazed and insulated panels with a palette of just three panels in three widths, which has moved away from the fully glazed building originally anticipated, providing 50 per cent glazed area to significantly reduce the cooling load and environmental impact.

– The addition of a new vertical core providing connectivity between laboratory levels within the containment zone, at the same time as providing discrete and secure laboratory flows for delivery and waste removal.

The building’s distinctive appearance, which bucks the trend from the Mediterranean themed Dubai Healthcare City zoning, was personally endorsed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. It provides the Al Jalila Foundation headquarters with a distinctive identity and accommodation that enjoys commanding views towards the Dubai Creek.

Burley said: “It was a great honour to work with such committed and appreciative clients as Dr. Adbulkareem Al Solama, and Professor Sehumaddin Galadari. Their unfailing faith that we would achieve a building that not only met all their functional requirements but be of exceptional quality, leaving a lasting legacy within Dubai Healthcare City was a key element of the successful outcome.”