Year 2021. Arab Health Trade Show. A post-Covid chance to go through the city of Dubai by night.

My favorite spots to visit when I travel are notoriously pharmacies. Wherever they are. The trend is even easier in Dubai as pharmacies are all over the place. The majority of them, actually the totality, is represented by pharmacy chains, always the same.

There is no experientiality. Just a price competition. It is neither good nor pleasant to go to Pharmacy in Dubai. I actually wonder whether the Dubai residents are satisfied with the Pharmacy offer. Perhaps they have just no choice. I also visit some branches within medium big shopping malls. Places surrounded by local communities or tourist neighborhoods. But what I find always looks pretty much the same, with very few exceptions.

The challenge, my challenge, is to revolutionize the pharmacy physical retail space panorama. It has changed very much throughout the last year. The product in Dubai is instead always too dominant. And I wonder why… Dubai is supposed to be an innovation and technology hub, a place to dare, to challenge, to be different… Instead, when we talk about pharmacy, nothing has changed here throughout the last few years. I see on LinkedIn new pharmacy openings in which designers pretend to have changed something.

Oh… I have noticed someone has implemented backlit shelves, but in reality, we are talking about light stripes precariously attached to the price holders.

But what about a good use of the lights? The lighting design is the base of any good retail project. This does not mean that the more you lighten up the pharmacy and the more it is attractive!

No, no no… temperature of lights needs to be at the right mix to create the most natural nuance, the one that will attract your customers.

Every light has a role inside the space but in the Pharmacies that I visited in Dubai it’s all like a big uniform light beam, no atmosphere, no focal point, all flat, all the same, no distinction between category products.

Without considering that people like me who suffer from migraines with aura can have photophobia problems.

Shouldn’t the pharmacy be a place to feel good? or make patients feel better?

I thought it was finally the evidence to use the pharmacy drawers (the first one was imported in Italy by my grandfather in 1959). Irrespective, in spite of governmental recommendations to keep medicines within cupboards and away from the sand, dust and like issues, nothing has changed unfortunately. Automation is all around us though. However, robots for medicine dispensation or dedicated products in Dubai are still something only reserved to hospitals.

I see that we are miles away from the pharmacy chains which have been made in USA, because of Amazon, in compliance with new criteria closer and closer to patients needs and entirely reconsidering the “cheap big-box philosophy” to find new way to do Pharmacies, as far as categories (good for the health) and new concepts are concerned, in order to get closer to patients’ needs.

 What is the culture of CHEAP about? It is the one promoting places “without a soul”, empty display units of products randomly displaced on the shelves. These pharmacies do not inspire love and care though. They do not pass either a sense of health or modernity. They are just standing there as a cheap bazaar. It is pretty sad though as buildings and display units, for an architect like me strolling through Dubai, represent something I should be crazy for.

IMG  rotated

This is what I feel in front of the curves of Zaha and the spirals of SOM Studio.

So why should we transform these pharmacies? It is about giving a sign of change in the moment of resurgence. Straight after the health emergency the vision of pharmacy has changed and we cannot pretend that nothing happened. Health has become throughout the last two years part of our daily life and has overcome the needed beauty. It is time to adequate standards and goals of pharmacies to the moment in which we are all living. And I am not just talking about DUBAI.

 The culture of cheap sets a downwards direction trend. And it does not elevate either the profession or the image of pharmacies. It certainly generates short-term profit, but on the long-term it degenerates and kills the market. Investing into the brand means prizing the image of one’s own shops and offering a place where the client feels good and is willing to stay longer. That is recipe to make business.

Stranges  LA

Giving your own client a positive experience. Building this little experiential village in order to make the product sale connected to positive feelings. The brand identity is connected to its digital and physical image. A retail branch is a hybrid expression of brand and must be designed in accordance to that. 

On the contrary, the culture of CHEAP is entirely based on appearance, fictional trends, what is just on the outside and is supported by the digital age creating perfect images only thanks to tricks and Photoshop manipulations. A cheap and not designed fit out, even if it can be disguised, it will remain forever an unattractive furniture concept. Your clients will perceive that too, especially after years of maintenance and daily use. You can always repeat to yourself that all your clients are interested in are products, discounts and promotions (but these are issues to be more easily found on the Internet…)


I hear Pharmacy owners often excuse their static attitudes without creating more modern and pleasant spaces where people can feel good, with the fact that beauty is scary. Some clients may be frightened by the order, communication or light. They would not enter an attractive space by supposing that a nice place makes products more expensive… THIS IS WRONG! In reality disadvantaged and poor people are always attracted by beauty. Beauty is appealing for everyone!

So, my experience says that it is not true that a clean and communicative Pharmacy and a place with quality and beauty can make clients run away from it.

It is vital to study and organize any pharmacy in accordance with its identities. It is pointless to approach a pharmacy without considering the place and neighborhood in which it is immersed. The traditions which are part of its background. These are the factors behind any commercial success. Analyses are requested to understand the best solution for every single case. Patient must be placed at the center of the project; the product is only functional to that.

And there are also collateral effects of Beauty: adjoining shops will start to follow your upwards trend, the street your shop looks at will become cleaner and more prestigious and the whole general environment will improve. There will be a change of mentality. People like beauty and beauty is contagious.

Let’s change our mind and get away from the so-called “culture of cheap”. Are you seriously believing that your clients are stupid and do not get the difference? Do you wonder if these are the reasons why your business does not get any better?

A pointless reaction of the driver unwilling to see the bend in front of him is to use the brake rather than the accelerator pedal…Innovation is not found on motorways though.

And competition is about braking later than all the others…

I know it is difficult at times to invest more, but it is allowed if the aim is to make more profits…

Profits related to your business and profits related to your brand image situation.

Brand is what makes your business win clients’ loyalty. It is a “visual hammer” bouncing in front of your clients’ eyes.

However, if you introduce yourself with a “cheap” image, your clients will ask for more and more discounts because this is the image you push through. You will get in return exactly what you give forwards: a downwards trend.

The obsession for “cheap” has its own consequences though: be ready to compromise on timing, durability, implementation and quality appeal. And last but not least you will compromise on your own lifestyle too.

You can truly succeed when you strategically design the future pathway for your business.

Arch. Fiona Sartoretto Verna

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