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Solution of the Month

Open Up and Say Ah: A dental office embraces the greenery and daylight of an adjacent park.

August 2011
Montalba Architects

By David Sokol

Photo © Mitch Tobias Photographer
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As dentists go, Sara Creighton and Jared Pool march (or drill, or polish) to their own beat. To get the attention of Montalba Architects, which Creighton and Pool wanted to tap for designing a build-out dental office, they emailed the Santa Monica, California–based studio a Halloween photo of themselves in costume. Montalba Architects responded to the unique query, and produced an equally unusually stylish interior in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood that also is certified LEED-Silver.

“I almost didn’t call them back,” David Montalba remembers. But when he did, the architect was drawn into a long-running conversation about community service. “The clients chose the location for its neighborhood aspects, and we discussed the proximity to other local businesses and the park. This organically became a conversation about minimizing the environmental impacts on the community they serve, while of course maximizing the design impacts.”

Now in operation for a year, the 1,900-square-foot Washington Square Park Dental evokes the namesake park and larger North Beach. “We decided to mix industrial materials with landscape,” Montalba explains. To that end, long, hot-rolled and oil-rubbed steel boxes are filled with sanseveria plants and line the entry ramp into the reception and waiting area. The so-called interior garden reappears along the south wall of the five operatories. Daylight also reaches these rooms through translucent wall panels that do not compromise patient privacy. Montalba says, “Having a daylit space enhances everyone’s work. It also enhances the experience from a patient’s perspective.”

The architect custom-designed another partition within the dental office: perforated acoustical paneling that reconciles with light transmission and X-ray viewing requirements. Some of the wall prototypes had their origin in previous commissions.

To be sure, Washington Square Park Dental incorporates not-unfamiliar sustainability strategies in general. They include low-flow fixtures and Energy Star–rated equipment, controls for lighting and thermal comfort, and low-VOC materials that reduce the indoor air contaminants that could bother more sensitive patients. The closest observers may even recognize the vintage dental chairs that were purchased locally.

Montalba admits that, as a tenant-improvement project, its scope of sustainability was limited, but, “You just have to bend a bit to the circumstances and do the best with what you’ve got.” Although the office could not control water efficiency at a systems level, for example, the design team installed metering equipment that provides Creighton and Pool with real-time information about their consumption. “Ditto for lighting and mechanical equipment,” Montalba adds. “Sustainability today is much more about systems integration and taking advantage of a site’s inherent possibilities. It’s also about giving end users flexibility and intelligence about their environment.”

 

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