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Healthcare Tourism in Dubai


American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Paul Macleod (2015). Courtesy of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital.

Site Brief:

Site Briefs provide the framework for the In Residence: Call for Intervention Strategies and Call for Associated Projects, and open up architectural questions associated to each site.

Discourses on health care often concern the role of the state in social welfare programming and government’s responsibility for providing medical infrastructure as part of its duty to its citizens. But as globalization facilitates the movement of people around the world, we see the emergence of care systems that operate within the logic of circulatory processes like tourism, providing treatments for the “global citizen”. The Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) was established in 2002 as a free economic zone occupying 4 million square feet in the heart of the city. Designed according to the health strategy for the Emirate of Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, this real estate venture was intended to make Dubai a hub for ‘medical tourism.’ As such, it would provide “state-of-the-art” services to Emirati nationals, who have had access to universal healthcare since the approval of the Health Insurance Law in 2014, as well as attract tourists who seek medical care as part of their holidays.[1]

The architecture and urbanism of medical spaces plays a role in this venture. As the chief executive officer of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital in Dubai, states, “the presentation and the aura are just as important as the quality of care”.[2] This particular aesthetic regime permeates DHCC, from the design of waiting room wallpapers, hospital room equipment, and free zone urbanism, to the rhetoric of media campaigns and scientific credentials. Operating rooms and laboratories are combined with VIP rooms, seven star hotels, florid interiors with views to open spaces, a system of lakes, and a mosque. These architectures are conceived not only to attract a high-end clientele, but are seen as having a therapeutic function, with color schemes and interiors chosen to aid the healing process.[3]

While Dubai targets overseas patients (offering packages that include treatment, accommodation, a visa, and insurance),[4] local residents themselves continue to travel abroad for healthcare, as state-provided services are far below the level of private care, and Dubai struggles with a lack of trained doctors and medical support staff.[5] The second phase of DHCC, which will increase its capacity by 20,000 people despite a current vacancy rate at DHCC of up to 30%, began this year at a cost of 1.36 billion USD, and will bring new partnerships with overseas universities and medical institutions to address the lack of trained medical staff.[6]

In its mediation of a transformed logics of tourism and the circulation of patients in search of affordable high end treatments, the case of DHCC allows us to inspect the prominent role given to architecture in the production of imaginaries meant to attract a global audience.

Site Report (A Teaser):

The State (Rahel Aima, Deepak Unnikrishnan, Ahmad Makia) on Health Tourism in Dubai

Reports about the sites have been commissioned from a group of international architects, artists, journalists, and other professionals. The commission for these reports is intended to challenge ideas of ‘site’ solely concerned with geometric boundaries and contextual references. Intervention strategies and associated projects do not need to respond to these reports.

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