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.

Additional Content:
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.

Blue Ridge Orthodonics
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.

Photo © Mark Herboth

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.

Blue Ridge Orthodonics
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


Interior designer:

Clark Nexsen



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


General contractor:

Beverly-Grant, Inc.



Mark Herboth Photography


Exterior Cladding

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



Locksets: Cal-Royal

Closers: Cal-Royal

Exit devices: Cal-Royal

Pulls: Cal-Royal

Accessories: Trimco


Interior Finishes

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