Interiors Awards 2017: Healthcare–Small

The curvilinear corridor is clad with wood slats to create a welcoming environment. All images courtesy José Hevia.

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Designer: OHLAB
Client: Private dental practice
Location: Palma de Mallorca, Spain

“With a sense of softness and serenity, this bold and detailed interior makes the idea of going to the dentist more pleasant. An amazing amount of design is packed into this understated, beautifully sculptured space.” —Jury

Stepping into the Emardental Clinic in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, visitors might mistake it for a spa. Warm vertical wood slats line the walls of the circulation areas, achieving a serene, sauna-like atmosphere that runs counter to the typical look of a dental office—a place many people associate with fear, anxiety, and pain. “The project is about how to design a place where you probably don’t want to be,” says Jaime Oliver, principal of Palma de Mallorca, Spain–based design firm OHLAB. “Indeed, the idea of creating an atmosphere that doesn’t look like a clinic was one of our priorities.”

Before visitors even enter the clinic, a play of light and shadow animates the facade and hints at the experience awaiting within. Translucent Porcelanosa Krion panels allow light to enter and introduce a rhythm of stripes, solids, and voids.

The compact 2,600-square-foot clinic includes reception and waiting areas, patient rooms, procedure rooms, and offices. The unusual plan features many irregularly shaped rooms and a curvilinear corridor for a sense of progression and discovery. “Because curved shapes and wooden strips make the interior more welcoming and pleasant, the wait and the progression to the rooms [is easier when] you are wrapped and accompanied by these curves,” Oliver says.

The contoured interiors are designed to make patients feel comfortable and at ease. “We tried to create two different worlds. The wood-slat-clad waiting and reception areas are meant to be unlike a typical clinic,” Oliver says. “They are designed to calm patients before being attended to, giving them confidence, making them feel at home. As a result, the atmosphere in these public spaces is warm, with soft and indirect illumination.” Alki seating upholstered in various shades of soft blue adds color to the waiting areas and hallways. Saarinen executive chairs, also in blue, are placed in the conference room.

Light from within the patient rooms streams through translucent glass panels divided by vertical wood slats. Curved appendages serve as door pulls for the patient rooms and offices, and room numbers are cut into their bowed handles. Wood planks with integrated lighting line the ceiling plane, adding to the cozy, cocoon feeling. Durable and easy to clean, the floors are ceramic tile with a woodlike finish.

With an all-white palette and an abundance of natural light filtered through the translucent exterior facade, the interiors of the operating and patient rooms have a very different feel from the warm circulation spaces. Equipment is stored in built-in cabinets, which keep the rooms uncluttered. All of the materials and surfaces were selected for their hygienic qualities and ease of maintenance.

“When you enter the operating theater, white materials reflect the [use of] high technology, accuracy, and hygiene in the space. You want to feel that you are in good and precise hands,” Oliver says. “To emphasize this effect, we used a neutral design and technical materials, as well as uniform, intense, and precise illumination.”

Even with the clinic’s thoughtful and humane design, it is doubtful that many of the patients will look forward to a visit to the dentist. But as healthcare design becomes increasingly patient-centered, many providers are realizing the benefits of natural light, nontoxic materials, and good design to calm nerves and improve care. The Emardental Clinic shows how those ideas can be applied with sophistication and humanity to create a welcoming space for clients of any age. Dental clinic design has been overdue for this checkup.

who: Architect and interior designer: OHLAB. Project team: Paloma Hernaiz; Jaime Oliver; Rebeca Lavín; Joana Aguilera; Rosa Fuentes; Amalia Stavropoulou; Nicola Kozhuharov; Stela Dineva. Contractor: Joaquín Garcia Rubio.
what: Interior walls: Lagares; Cricursa. Facade/flooring: Porcelanosa. Ceilings: Ainsis; Lagares. Lighting: Santa & Cole. Workstation/task seating: Knoll. Lounge/reception seating: Alki. Other seating: Vitra. Reception desk: custom by Lagares.