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 region’s natural beauty.
Jump to credits & specifications
For a prominent 1.3-acre site located on the city’s 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 McDonald’s 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 Roberts’s three locations.
Photo © Mark Herboth
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, “A very early image for me was of being out on a porch. If you have the feeling that you’re outside,” she continues, “then your orthodontist appointment is less of a chore—actually, a very relaxing experience.” 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. “Building something on the main road in Asheville, I wanted to contribute to the community, not just put up something quick,” 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. “We wanted to incorporate any kind of function that we could along the way,” says Schulz. “The wall became this very malleable element.”
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 “extraordinarily typical” for his type of practice, since orthodontia is usually minimally invasive. “This layout makes patients—and especially the younger ones—feel more comfortable, because they’re not alone,” he explains. “They see other kids around them going through the same thing, and no one’s screaming, no one’s crying.” 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 practice’s 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. “A lot of moms prefer to come somewhere that doesn’t have televisions blasting,” says Roberts, who notes that women make about 80 percent of health-care decisions for households. “So, yes, it was part of the idea to have them focus on the outdoors.”
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 need—no additional headlamps or task lighting required, per Roberts’s request. “We studied the illumination of the old office, then worked with the engineers to achieve the right light loads, at the chairs especially,” 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 patients’ smiles.
Photo © Mark Herboth
Clark Nexsen, 301 College Street, Suite 300, 828.232.0608, www.clarknexsen.com
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Chad Roberson, AIA, Principal in Charge; Dorothea Schulz, AIA, Project Architect; Rachel Murdaugh
Structural: Kloesel Engineering, P.A.
Mechanical: RN&M Engineers
Electrical: RN&M Engineers
Plumbing: RN&M Engineers
Civil: Civil Design Concepts
Landscape Architect: Siteworks studios
Interior Design (Furniture): In Site Designs
Mark Herboth Photography
Thin Stone Veneer
TPO: Johns Manville
Encore Storefront System: Kawneer
SNX 62/27: Guardian SunGuard
Encore Storefront system doors: Kawneer
Wood doors: OSHKOSH Door Company
Exit devices: Cal-Royal
DX/ DXL Acoustical ceiling grid: USG
Olympia Micro Clima Plus Acoustical ceiling tiles: USG
T&G wood ceiling: Radiata Pine
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: custom built by Lentz Cabinets
Poplar Plywood for custom woodwork: Garnica
Plastic laminate: Formica, Wilsonart
Solid surfacing, curved wall: Hanex
Solid surfacing, caseword: Corian
Carpet (Art Media, Fretwork, Arcadia): Milliken
Linear pendant and linear recessed, Seem 2: Focal Point
Recessed downlights, LDN6: Lithonia
Curved LED strip lighting, VarioLED Flex Phobos: LED Linear
LED Mini pendant, Knoll: Eurofase Lighting
Faucet Handwashing sinks at plywood wall, Purist: Kohler
Faucet Teeth brushing sinks at plywood wall, Avalon: California Faucets
Sinks at plywood wall, Canvas: Kohler
Daikin VRV Heat Recovery System: Daikin
Exterior street signage: APCO