A dental office in Boston balances electric lighting with daylighting for a pleasant patient experience.

» Located on the second floor of the first high-rise built in Boston in the early 1970s, the offices of Sowles Trauring is one of the largest dental practices in the city. The space served first as a cafeteria for Prudential Insurance employees, and then as a health club. In renovating the space to accommodate the dental office, the design team was charged with several goals. First, the client wanted the space to be inviting for patients and a pleasant place to work for employees. Second, the layout of the office positioned most of the operatories along the building's northwest-facing perimeter, taking advantage of the floor-to-ceiling window walls; this meant creating a lighting system compatible with vast amounts of daylight, as well as darkness.

'In New England, at about 3:30 in the afternoon, from late fall through early spring, darkness falls and the window walls become black holes,' says Burton Visnick, principal of Visnick & Caulfield Associates, the Boston architecture firm that designed the project. 'If the lighting weren't well planned, the glare that bounces back from those windows could be uncomfortable and distracting.'

From Visnick's experience, dental practitioners usually have a hand in how the space is to be designed. 'Dr. Charles Trauring happens to have great vision, a sense of functionality, and a good eye for design,' says Visnick. For example, the long, narrow corridor leading to the operatories was at the minimum width of 44 inches required by code. Lighting was used to help it feel more spacious than it actually is. 'We created cloud-shaped soffits constructed from gold-painted wood, and set them at varied heights on opposite sides of the corridor to mark the entrances to the operatories,' Visnick explains. Each 'cloud' includes an uplight and a downlight component: an 18-inch-long fluorescent tube brightens the ceiling and emphasizes its height, and a compact fluorescent marks each operatory entrance. The operatories enjoy ample illumination from a system of two 8-foot-long indirect fluorescent pendants suspended by aircraft cable. Task light fixtures illuminate the patient's mouth area. 'We wanted the lighting of the room to be at a similar level, so that when the practitioner needs to look away and reach for a piece of equipment, the irises aren't strained by continually opening and closing to accommodate significant light level changes,' Visnick explains. Moreover, the indirect lighting system allows patients to recline and gaze up comfortably during examinations and procedures and prevents any severe glare problems resulting from the evening darkness. The design team also selected surfacing materials to avoid glare, such as matte finishes on the neutral-toned countertops and cabinetry.

The entrance and waiting room design have the patient in mind, but with a different look. Furniture with subtle, yet inviting, colors in shades of yellow and blue is complemented by artwork. Though the operatories and services areas are lit with fluorescent sources, ceiling-recessed MR16s highlight the wall-mounted prints and give the space a residential feel. While the operatories enjoy 100 footcandles of illumination, the entrance and waiting area are lit to 40 footcandles, low enough to create a calming atmosphere, but bright enough to allow patients to fill out required paperwork.

The collaboration between the design team and the client has succeeded in addressing not only the aesthetic considerations, but the challenges created by the architecture. 'The client really wanted to create a special place for both patients and staff,' says Visnick, proud of his success in achieving just that. And the client, Dr. Charles Trauring concurs: 'The office has a classic look that's timeless. In ten years, it's going to look just as great.' wanda jankowski

project Sowles Trauring, Dental Partners, Boston
architect Visnick and Caulfield Associates
photographer Clements Howcroft
manufacturers Alkco, Belfer, Beta Calco, Columbia, Edison Price, Finelite, Mark Lighting, Prescolite, RSA, Tech Lighting