Dumfries Dental Centre

Learn how an unconventional, award-winning dental centre design has changed what a trip to the dentist means. 

The exterior of a single storey building clad in timber with evenly spaced windows, the sun is setting in the background
Published: 15/01/2010

A project team has rejected conventional dental centre design and created an innovative surgery in Dumfries. 

Dumfries Dental Centre is appreciated by staff and patients alike for its relaxing environment and innovative facilities. It has won several design and sustainability awards.

From waiting-room views of the Dumfriesshire hills to ambidextrous consulting rooms, the development could be setting a new design standard for dental centre design. 

It shows how good design can support innovative, highly specialised facilities and the everyday experience of patients and staff. 

“The board were delighted with the reception that the dental centre received in the community, both locally and throughout NHS Scotland. They have indicated that they’re looking to maintain that kind of design standard in the future.”  

Stephen Howie, Project Manager - NHS Dumfries and Galloway 

Case study: Dumfries Dental Centre

Read the full case study to find out more about the project, including further details on its architecture and design.

Unconventional design 

The client, NHS Dumfries and Galloway, took the opportunity to work with a new design team, Davis Duncan (now NORR), to produce an innovative and unconventional dental centre.  

A calming entrance 

The building is set back from the car park and the busy hospital. As you walk across a small bridge and down the quiet landscaped path, the first impression is calm seclusion.

The faded timber boarding, neutral panels, and simple windows allow the building to sit unobtrusively within the natural landscape, welcoming in the visitor.

A corridor with a series of brightly coloured curved walls - the walls are green, purple, pink and red
Wayfinding is aided by bright colours and clear signage. Image credit: NORR/Archial Ingenium

A dental centre with a view 

Inspired by views of the Dumfriesshire hills over the local hospital’s helipad, Davis Duncan had immediately suggested a change in the overall organisation of the site. 

They rejected the conventional dentistry building model, in particular the tendency towards small windows.  

Instead, they designed a long, linear building that bends around the Dumfries Royal Infirmary helipad. It has large, full-height windows to maximise views and daylight. 

So after the secluded entrance, visitors are greeted in the reception with a wide, unexpected vista of the open green space and hills beyond.  

The waiting room is a peaceful and relaxing space. Rather than patients nervously looking thorough magazines, the view is the main draw. 

Chairs that start the day neatly facing the reception are soon turned towards the windows, both for the view and for the interest of arriving helicopters. 

Once in the consulting rooms, the view from the windows again takes precedence, providing a positive distraction for patients. 

Project Manager Stephen Howie credits a series of Architecture and Design Scotland seminars to him embracing the move to a less conventional approach. 

“I think that experience gave me the confidence to go with the more radical approach that Davis Duncan were taking. NHS Dumfries and Galloway usual design principals were driven by budget and function with less emphasis on design quality and innovation. While this building was also built to a budget, more emphasis was placed on how the design could enhance the patient experience. The design champion workshops taught us that good design should be a priority in everything we do.”  

Stephen Howie, Project Manager - NHS Dumfries and Galloway 

Ambidextrous consulting rooms 

During the initial design phase there was a focus on designing ambidextrous consulting rooms. Traditionally dentist rooms are right or left-handed, restricting recruitment and flexibility.  

The process involved detailed consultation with staff, and a full-scale mock-up for testing. The result was a curved wall in each room, producing an undulating corridor wall.  

Each curved wall is painted in a bright and cheerful colour, creating a rainbow effect. The walls, lit by daylight from above, and the facility’s clear signage help visitors find their way around the centre. 

Flexible design

One wing of the building is dedicated to education and training: the rooms have glass partitions along the corridor for observation. 

After the building work had started it was decided that specialist facilities in Dumfries should be moved to the facility. 

So two additional rooms, equipped for patients with additional space and access requirements, were added to the brief.  

Due to the flexibility of the plan and the site, it was possible to extend the form at limited additional cost. 

And after the centre was completed, part of the training wing became a centre for the University of Highlands and Islands School of Oral Health Science.  

This required some post-build changes, adding technical and communication capabilities to a lab room so it could function as a distance tutorial room. 

A photograph of a circular timber-clad building on top of a hill, raised from the ground on steel columns
The curved end of the building is raised on pillars to accommodate the exterior ground levels. Image credit: NORR/Archial Ingenium

Sustainability approach  

The Carbon Trust funded a ground source heat pump to heat and cool the building, and the building uses a sustainable urban drainage system.  

The large windows and roof lights significantly reduce the need for artificial lighting. Reflective glazing helps to keep the facility cool. 

“We wanted innovation introduced and we wanted the building to be as sustainable as possible using natural ventilation and light. We’re very happy that we’ve actually achieved that to the extent we have.” 

Stephen Howie, Project Manager - NHS Dumfries and Galloway 

Learning: a change of tack mid-project 

During development the project changed from a two-building service model that retained the original facilities to a combined new building. The board felt this caused some strain among staff. 

Early in the development, staff had been offered the choice between moving to the new facility and staying in the old. Those who preferred the latter were then later required to move.  

By that point they had missed the opportunity to take part in the consultation processes, which may have helped give them a sense of ownership of the new building.  

The move to a single facility has also resulted in a shortage of office facilities. Most staff, however, like the new building. This appreciation continues to grow over time.

Learning: sustainability teething problems 

There have been a few problems adjusting to and refining some of the sustainability features:  

  • The heat pump works well when heating the building, but it is not being fully put to use for cooling in summer. This means mobile air conditioning units are sometimes used. 

  • Debris blown around by helicopters landing and taking off blocked the sustainable urban drainage system, which had to be changed as a result. 

Header image credit: NORR/Archial Ingenium

Further examples of healthcare facilities

We have more case studies on healthcare facilities available on our website. These case studies cover a broad range projects ranging from hospitals to dental practices.

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Aberdeen Community Health and Care Village

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Elmview and Muirview Ward's courtyard with plants and a water feature in the centre of the outdoor space.

Elmview and Muirview Wards, Stratheden Hospital

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An internal courtyard with a green floor, chairs, bean bags and a giant outdoor chess set. The courtyard is surrounded by a glass wall.

Stratheden Intensive Psychiatric Care Unit

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