Ballarat, Victori

The Ballarat Health Services Dental and Teaching Clinic challenges conventions of public health amenities.

Completed in 2014, the project was a response to the lack of public dental facilities in the Ballarat region and surrounding towns and focussed on relocating existing facilities from a nearby hospital site.

The former site was inadequate for several reasons. It couldn’t deliver the level of practical teaching and training required for students, and was also ill-equipped to support the needs of public patients including children and young people, people with disabilities and those experiencing disadvantage, marginalisation or at risk of homelessness.

The result is a beautifully designed new facility akin to a private and personal centre. It brings students and the public together, with dental care services by students in dedicated suites under supervision and free treatment for all members of the community.

Our intention was to create a strong building identity buffered from the main street, balanced by a welcoming and calm entry amidst landscaping, trees and gardens.

We began with an innovative ‘patient-first approach’: drawing on the experience of staff, recent dental clinic design and traditional clinic layouts to think critically about how each end user might engage and interact with the new space.

To this end, the suites are arranged around the outside of the facility, with each chair facing a window out to landscaped views and natural sunlight. In the middle of the site, the laboratories, sterilising components, corridors and internalised suites also benefit from natural light.

With windows facing an internal courtyard as well as raised roof sections incorporating high level windows, the design delivers improved amenity for staff and recognises that patients undergoing treatment are more likely to feel relaxed in all suites with a peaceful view.

The challenge was managing the facility’s sterilisation requirements, also mitigated by an innovative approach. We designed double-sided, pass-through hatches with roller shutters accessible from inside and outside each suite.

The effect is two-fold: contaminated utensils can be removed immediately from the work area, and they can be picked up easily for cleaning from the corridor without disturbing treatment within the suite.

The site is located at Sebastopol’s Phoenix P-12 Community College, which allowed the dental service to expand as a teaching clinic for Latrobe University students.

Easily accessible on the ground floor with public transport to the front door, the facility functions independently from the local Ballarat Hospital and rehouses the town’s public facilities in one building.

It includes:

  • 20 dental suites, with state-of-the-art chairs and equipment
  • Technician laboratories, to create orthodontic appliances, dentures, tooth replacements and prosthetics
  • Central Sterile Services Department (CSSD)
  • Radiology and X-Ray services
  • Staff social/common areas and kitchenette
  • Specialised tracking for wheelchairs
  • Disability access to the chairs and X-Ray screens in front of patients
  • Provision for a future radiology facility, with CT scanning, X-Ray and ultrasound amenities; and
  • Carparking and site landscaping.

Colour and materiality challenge perceptions of dental facilities too, instead creating a relaxed environment. The façade features non-standard white clay brickwork, naturally toned aluminium cladding and complex external geometries.

The palette is bright, relaxed and clear – tailored for people who are visually impaired and very unlike the former hospital site’s facilities. The floors and walls feature contrasting colours for improved orientation, while colours change gradually around the suites to soften and enhance comfort for all users. Furthermore, the building features acoustically engineered internal partitions, reducing the sometimes stressful noise effects of nearby treatment.

Today, this facility is training the next generation of undergraduate dentists, oral health therapists, dental technicians, prosthetists and radiologists.

Inspired by the way users respond to the building, we have created a building that not only alleviates the anxiety and trauma of patients, but also provides an invaluable, accessible public service for many years to come.

Photography by Michelle Williams Photography