Innovative dental surgery design can act as an extension of your practice’s brand identity. But it must be true to the ethos of the practice. By Sarah Hollingworth
The notion that ‘form follows function’ might be more readily associated with 20th-century modernist architects and industrial designers but, for dentist Dr Hieu Le, it became the foundation for his new surgery in Brisbane’s West End.
Originally expressed by Louis Sullivan, an early mentor to American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the principle dictated that the shape of a building or object should be determined by its purpose. Though the theories of architecture were not exactly top of mind for Dr Le, what fell out of his brief to Tonic, the Brisbane-based architecture firm, was the aesthetics of his surgery must be derived from its clinical nature.
The result is a modern, stark, white surgery with a visual emphasis on horizontal and vertical lines and floating cabinetry. Tonic director Matt Riley says his client’s brief was white, white and more white—to reflect a clean and sterile environment.
“Patients are looking for subliminal cues for clean and professional surroundings, particularly in surgeries,” says Riley. “The difference is, we carried the white all the way through to the main reception and waiting areas—we felt there wasn’t the need to separate the spaces.”
But far from being white, clinical and alienating, the 100-square-metre space has an air of tranquillity; something Tonic thought would be a drawcard for a brand-new practice looking to attract patients.
Just off busy Boundary Street in Brisbane’s distinctly cutting-edge inner-city suburb of West End, Le Tooth (a play on Dr Le’s surname, rather than any Gallic reference) is situated o
“There was a lot of pushing and pulling of space,” admits Riley, “but it actually feels really spacious.” That’s something he attributes to the light colour palette, which they achieved through textures of white, rather thanflat surfaces. n the corner of a small shopping complex. The premises—seemingly more befitting of a retail space than a dental surgery—contains three dental chairs, sterilisation and OPG rooms, staffroom, office, c
onsulting room and reception and waiting areas.
For example, to achieve a clean and smooth finish, Quantum Quartz engineered stone (which, in addition to being stylish, is also low maintenance and ultra hygienic) was used for the surgery bench tops and reception desk, and the use of the polished concrete floors brought an invaluable softening to the overall space.
But the real “find”, says Riley, was the window treatment—an extruded, white plastic wall covering. “It has this appearance of a cross between the root of a tree and the root of your teeth,” laughs Riley. “It was a cool analogy, but it also added texture to the environment.”
It would have been easy to go overboard with kitsch-but-cute dental references—tooth-shaped chairs very nearly made the shopping list—but it was important to remain true to the function of the space and practice. As such, interior elements are subtle, functional and represent Dr Le’s modern aesthetic.
There’s a fish tank between the reception area and consulting room—which, Riley points out, adds both movement and a splash of colour. Floating cabinetry houses (or hides, as the case may be) sometimes ominous-looking dental tools. And strategically selected plants and ornaments—including a large tooth, which can be lit-up at night—dramatise the area around the reception desk.
The tooth, says Riley, was something the client found, but it works well. “There’s the word ‘dentist’ on the window,” he says, referring to the distinct ‘Le Tooth Dentist’ signage, “but we decided to get some association that was literal.”
While the design of any dental surgery is only limited by the imagination of the owner, and can act as an extension of the branding identity, experimental and expensive fit-outs are not always appropriate.
Geoff Parkes, director of Dental Advantage Consulting Group, says, while there’s certainly a place for practice branding, authenticity and consistency are paramount.
“If the surgery design is authentic to the dentist’s personality, type of dental practice, the clientele and the location, then that’s fine,” he explains. “That tells the patient, on a subconscious level, what kind of practice they’re in and what they can expect.”
If, on the other hand, it’s not appropriate to the dental practice or clientele, Parkes says the business is more likely to suffer than prosper.
“There will be situations where it’s just not appropriate to be investing that kind of capital,” he says, explaining that a clean surgery with friendly, helpful staff can be just as effective. “Your patients aren’t going to appreciate it and it’s not going to make a difference to your bottomline.”
Likening it to renovating a house, Parkes suggests dentists ask themselves: am I getting value for money, am I over capitalising, is it consistent with my budget and why am I doing this?
Starting from scratch (having previously worked for another dentist), Dr Le says he specifically considered his potential West End clientele and passers-by.
“It’s very inner city and there’s a huge shift in demographic,” he says, referring to the apartment-dwelling professionals moving to the area. “So I wanted to cater
to people who are mindful of aesthetics.”
Eighteen months down the road of his new fit-out, Dr Le concedes he spent more than he intended, but he is very happy with the end product, which also provides an ideal platform to showcase his state-of-art equipment.
“I don’t think many dentists would want to spend that much capital,” he says, “but the books are looking good for a new dental surgery.”
So, in Dr Le’s opinion, has innovative design helped create a strong identity for his practice?
A world of design
Like much in the world of design, overseas dental practices are leading the way in innovative surgery design. Here are a few out-of-the-box examples…
Bloo Dental, Virgina, USA
By Forma Design (images: Geoffrey Hodgdon)
Inspired by the owner’s love of scuba diving and all things blue (the colour, that is, not the mood!), Bloo Dental in Brambleton, Virginia is a veritable underwater dental theme park—but in a good way. Low ceilings, circular cut-out doorways and a moving water projection on to the reception area wall create a postmodern submarine-like aesthetic. And, with dark blue banquettes tucked inside the curved-wall segments framing the waiting area’s side wall, this is a waiting room to put even the most anxious patient at ease.
Dental clinic KU64, Kurfürstendamm 64, Berlin, Germany
By Graft (images: Hiepler & Brunier, Berlin/www.KU64.de)
The model of a sand dune landscape was used as a metaphor for this über dental clinic in Berlin, Germany. Themed in yellow with undulating floors and ceilings (creating symbolic spaces to hide) and a hanging fireplace in the waiting area, the goal of this clinic is to let patients forget about their fears and relax—as if in a spa, cafe or hotel. “A visit to the dentist could be seen as a little journey into wellbeing,” argues the USA and Germany-based architectural firm Graft. Extending this concept, the clinic manifests subliminal messages of beauty, health and wellness.
Dental Lounge, Düsseldorf, Germany
By Graft (images: Marcus Schwier)
With curved walls, ceilings and fixtures, the source of inspiration for this futuristically designed dental surgery was the Aesculapian staff. A symbol of the medical profession (consisting of a branched staff with a single snake twined around it), the use of concave and convex surfaces, combined with lavish swirls in warm hues, creates a soft and calming effect. Meanwhile, cross-like light fittings bring a necessary air of healthcare and wellbeing to the space.