Design Case Study: University of Otago Dental School


Jasmax Principal, Sarah Hayden is lead architect on a new hospital-level patient-treatment building and redevelopment of another multi-storey building for New Zealand’s only national centre for dentistry, on the University of Otago’s Dunedin campus.The University’s Faculty of Dentistry is already among the top 30 dental ‘schools’ globally based on QS World University Rankings by subject.

Sarah discusses the design process for the $130-million-dollar project, and the role this project plays in the University’s strategic commitment to being a good national citizen and improving lives in New Zealand.

University of Otago Dental School: Design Case Study

The 8,000m² new build and 8,000m² redevelopment is designed to:

• Enhance the Faculty of Dentistry’s status as one of leading dentistry training providers in the world – it wants to be in the top 10.

• Provide an innovative teaching and research facility informed by the very latest international health-design strategies.

The Faculty’s current home in the 1961 Walsh Building was designed by the Government Architect to accommodate 150 students. With enrolments at 600 in 2014, it was imperative to expand and significantly improve functionality.

The new Clinical Services Building – where staff and students under supervision treat patients – adds a four-storey structure to the site in Great King Street and a new atrium that connects to the rear of the existing 8,000m², five-storey, heritage-listed Walsh Building, which is also being gutted and refurbished as part of this project.

The Faculty:

• Performs about 76,000 dental treatments annually for the public from around the South Island.

• Includes undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in dentistry, oral health and dental technology.

• Includes the Sir John Walsh Research Institute.

As lead architects, Jasmax’s main role is to provide project leadership, navigating the Faculty through complex briefing and design processes.

“We made the client’s best interests our own and were able to walk them through the process one step at a time,” says Principal Architect Sarah Hayden.

To win the project in 2014, Jasmax established a joint venture team with Australian architects Brewster Hjorth Architects (BHA) and Dunedin-based architects Parker Warburton. This allowed the team to capitalise on the core skills of all the partners.

Jasmax is nationally recognised as a hospital and tertiary education design expert, having delivered large and complex projects such as the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences (2013), and the 30,000m² Burwood Hospital in Christchurch, which opened in 2016. But Jasmax had not specifically designed a large dental teaching facility given only one exists in New Zealand. Jasmax looked to BHA to provide this specific experience because it had recently completed two dental teaching and research facilities for Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Australia. Dunedin-based architects Parker Warburton had worked successfully with Jasmax delivering Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr stadium, so provided local support for the dentistry decant strategy.

Key design drivers for the project were:

• To provide an environment that supports a high standard of learning and achievement, while also allowing spaces for social interactions among students.

• Wayfinding for the public needed to be well-considered, taking the existing building’s heritage status into account.

• The new facility needed to allow people to work and study easily and efficiently, while co-locations were also important.

• The current Faculty needed to remain operational during construction.

“Our team approached the design the way we approach all new healthcare projects – by listening to clinicians reflect on their day-to-day experiences, challenges and preferences. In our experience, most clinicians have worked in a wide range of institutions, making them a goldmine of information to shape the project brief and design.

It was equally important that we benchmarked the brief against international best practice to look at the latest design trends and test how these might be relevant to the University of Otago. It is vitally important to understand where research is heading in the future and to learn lessons from others.”

In 2015, Jasmax and the University of Otago visited two teaching and research institutes to see best-practice design solutions for purpose-built dental and oral health facilities – the University of Queensland’s (UQ’s) 150 chair Oral Health Centre (just completed and being commissioned) and the Griffith University School of Dentistry and Oral Health (2013).

Sarah Hayden says: “Griffith’s facility is shared with Health Sciences and was executed under a design build contract, whereas the UQ stand-alone facility had significant state funding, so in terms of results, both centres are quite different. We considered what might work and what might not for the University of Otago. For example, the addition of an intramural clinic would allow University of Otago academic staff to seamlessly provide specialist and inter-disciplinary clinical services that enhance daily teaching and research activities.”

This is just one example of the practical design thinking that will maximise the value of this project for everyone using this innovative facility in the future.

Worldwide, the University of Otago is fairly unique because it not only trains dentists but also dental technicians and dental hygienists, who all use the same spaces. This means the specialist furniture, servicing and equipment requirements of each discipline had to be accommodated in the design of the 219 new clinical training stations.

Sarah Hayden says, “We understood that the complexity of the facility’s teaching aspirations would require an innovative and space-saving design solution. Early in the design process, the project team invited the top four international dental chair suppliers to present their latest design innovations to the University. Chairs are the biggest unknown in terms of procurement. A dental chair can cost anywhere between $20K and $80K each. It’s like buying a car in terms of features and specifications. It’s important to interrogate the functionality of each one to understand what will work best.”

The Faculty was most interested in the features of a herringbone surgery layout design because of space efficiency and teaching ratios. The design team developed a full-scale surgery prototype to test how that herringbone arrangement might apply to the design of clinics for the University of Otago, and to trial chairs.

“We were able to take a generic layout and modify it into something that is completely bespoke to the University of Otago’s needs for training dentists, hygienists and technicians. Prototyping in this way gave the University the confidence to commit to an innovative design which saves considerable floor area compared to a more traditional layout. It also allowed for a tutoring ratio of 1:8 students, which was a key requirement in the brief. Gross Floor Area is one of the most-significant determiners of cost in any building. Every square metre saved in a new building is significant, so this design solution not only met University requirements for teaching but ensured value for money spent and we were able to optimise chair numbers as a result.” Designing this facility was a thorough and methodical process.

“As an architect, you’re gradually collecting pieces of other projects and ideas to build a picture of what good looks like. Then, you start looking at the constraints of your site, what you can physically build, what might fit, how the client might want to work. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. You work slowly and carefully collecting the pieces, and when it comes together, it’s magic,” says Sarah Hayden.

Jasmax is also the designer for the University of Otago’s $28.3 million dental teaching facility and patient treatment clinic in South Auckland, which is in the early construction phase. This two-storey clinic beside the Counties Manukau SuperClinic in Great South Road will provide dental care to the South Auckland community.

At any one time, 48 final-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery students will be assigned to the clinic, which will also provide continuing education for dentists across the North Island.

“The South Auckland project came about after the documentation for Dunedin was complete, and the specialist equipment suppliers had been selected. It was extremely beneficial to carry across the learnings from Dunedin to Auckland, which was again simplified through pre-existing relationships with the University and key suppliers.”

The new Clinical Services Building in Dunedin has been handed over to the University and the Walsh Building refurbishment is starting in June 2019. The South Auckland project is due to finish in early 2020, in time for the start of the academic year.

Sarah Hayden Principal Auckland
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