Expensive, inconvenient, daunting, even painful: perceptions of orthodontic treatment can run the gamut of negative emotions, for adult and younger patients alike. The design of a new office in Asheville, North Carolina, helps alleviate those stresses, presenting clients with a calm, soothing environment that highlights the regionâs natural beauty.
For a prominent 1.3-acre site located on the cityâs main thoroughfare, Dr. Luke Roberts commissioned Clark Nexsen to design a flagship treatment and administrative space for his growing practice. (Roberts acquired the property, which housed a McDonaldâs restaurant for 40 years, the year before construction began.) The architect, with a modernist sensibility and 10 offices throughout the mid-Atlantic and southern U.S. (including one in downtown Asheville), is well acquainted with the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, for which the project is named. The firm delivered a 7,500-square-foot L-shaped building that frames views of the verdant landscape while separating patient areas from the new business office that serves Robertsâs three locations.
The glass-and-steel structure opens to a 300-square-foot landscaped bioswale where birds, chipmunks, and other wildlife cavort. Says project architect Dorothea Schulz, âA very early image for me was of being out on a porch. If you have the feeling that youâre outside,â she continues, âthen your orthodontist appointment is less of a choreâactually, a very relaxing experience.â The upward-tilting roof supported by wood rafters has a deep overhang, and the ample glazing, reaching almost 13 feet high, lends a pavilion-like quality to the building, which is embedded in low walls of fieldstone. Roberts sees the design as a modern reinterpretation of the historic visitor centers that dot the Blue Ridge Parkway. âBuilding something on the main road in Asheville, I wanted to contribute to the community, not just put up something quick,â he says.
In a gesture to the local vernacular, the palette of natural materials on the exterior carries through to the interior. Planks of radiata pine extend from the ceiling to the roof soffit, which reaches a height of more than 14 feet. A striking curved ribbon wall picks up on the warm tones: at 9 feet high and 4 inches thick in most places, the serpentine insertion is made from 136 sheets of horizontally stacked poplar plywood. It defines the areas most trafficked by patients and wraps around the reception desk and waiting area, continuing into the primary treatment space. There, cabinets, sinks, and open pass-throughs for sanitized medical implements are discreetly contained within and behind the striated millwork. âWe wanted to incorporate any kind of function that we could along the way,â says Schulz. âThe wall became this very malleable element.â
Most orthodontic work takes place in an open bay, although there are small single patient rooms around the perimeter of the structure for procedures (or patients) requiring more privacy. Roberts calls the open configuration âextraordinarily typicalâ for his type of practice, since orthodontia is usually minimally invasive. âThis layout makes patientsâand especially the younger onesâfeel more comfortable, because theyâre not alone,â he explains. âThey see other kids around them going through the same thing, and no oneâs screaming, no oneâs crying.â Ten chairs, arranged along perpendicular window walls at the bend of the L-shaped building, look out onto the bioswale.
The calming environment works for parents and children alike, and, although some 65 percent of the practiceâs clients are kids, there are no iPads or other screens to occupy young minds; instead, each chair has a basket with binoculars and bird and plant identification guides. âA lot of moms prefer to come somewhere that doesnât have televisions blasting,â says Roberts, who notes that women make about 80 percent of health-care decisions for households. âSo, yes, it was part of the idea to have them focus on the outdoors.â
The glazing that encloses much of the structure has a slightly reflective coating, which reduces heat gain and obscures views from the outside in. In concert with abundant daylighting, adjustable LED fixtures, suspended high above the chairs, provide all the visibility doctors needâno additional headlamps or task lighting required, per Robertsâs request. âWe studied the illumination of the old office, then worked with the engineers to achieve the right light loads, at the chairs especially,â says Schulz.
Since the building opened in September 2017, Roberts has seen a 20 percent increase in appointments, up from about 1,000 per month to some 1,200. With space for his staff of more than 40 to grow, the future of Blue Ridge Orthodontics looks as bright as its patientsâ smiles.