February 1, 2010

They’re All Smiles: AB Design Studio Designs A Whimsical Pediatric Dentistry Office

Pediatric dentist Amand Begian was looking for more than just an office when he leased space in a typical Southern California strip mall in the city of Oxnard. He needed branding, too. So AB Design Studio‘s two partners, Clay Aurell and Josh Blumer, consulted on logos, letterhead and business cards, even a new name: Sugarbug Dental derives from the concept that kids should brush the sweet stuff away.

The budget was tight, the space was nondescript—a long, skinny box with a wall of windows and a sloped ceiling—and the program was cut-and-dried, calling for six exam rooms and corresponding areas for parents to observe, out of the way but close at hand. That last condition was what provided Aurell and Blumer with their creative spark. “Our idea was that, outside every operatory, there would be a module with a slot window, allowing parents to look in,” Blumer explains.

Clad in plastic laminate and detailed in maple, each module is the shape of a stylized capital J. The top, a canopy, houses incandescent lighting. Embedded in the stem of the J is an LCD monitor for X-ray viewing. And pull-up seating transforms the horizontal bottom of the J into a temporary desk for parents catching up on their bills or flipping through a selection of magazines both highbrow and low. (The New Yorker or People? Take your pick.)

Extending behind the reception desk, all but one of the exam rooms form a row down the center of the facility’s 94-foot length, with a corridor on either side. Patients primarily use the corridor that runs parallel to the window wall, passing the observation modules and entering the exam rooms through sliding glass doors. The other corridor provides access to one exam room, plus the back-of-house areas that fill out the remainder of the 2,400 square feet: a sterilization room, X-ray facilities, a break room, and Begian’s own office.

Acoustics were a big concern. A single frightened, wailing child can start a chain reaction—imagine the noise of six sobbing tots. That’s why Aurell and Blumer hung fabric-wrapped panels from overhead studs in the exam rooms. This treatment not only deadens sound but also, Aurell says, “creates form.”

Translucent acrylic clerestories add more interest above. At floor level in the exam rooms, medical-grade gray sheet vinyl is a dead ringer for concrete. Blue-gray carpet tiles are elsewhere.

Color was a prime branding component at Sugarbug. For the Jasper Morrison chairs at the observation modules, Aurell, Blumer, and Begian chose powder blue. But the orange of the modules themselves really sets the tone. Inspiration came from close by, just a 20-minute drive away—the architects’ own studio. “Dr. Begian fell in love with orange as he spent more time in our space,” Blumer notes. “It’s powerful, warm, and energizing, and it works well with the materials we were using.”

Working with 3-D visualization gave Begian confidence that he wouldn’t get any surprises. Nevertheless, he did get two: awards from the Santa Barbara and Ventura chapters of the AIA.

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