Building Flexibility into Highly Specialized Teaching Facilities

Five minutes with Mary Le Johnson, architect of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston – School of Dentistry

Campus leaders want to create buildings that will meet the needs of students and faculty now and in the future. In the medical fields, rapidly changing technology and clinical practices make planning for the future especially challenging.

When The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston created a new building for the School of Dentistry, flexibility was a major focus. Mary Le Johnson, Project Director at EYP Architecture and Engineering, is one of the architects who led design.

EAB's Anna Krenkel recently caught up with Mary Le to discuss the project.

2016 Architectural Design Showcase
Click through the slideshow to see the project

Anna Krenkel: How did you create a space where the school can train students with the most up-to-date technology yet be ready for future changes in technology, clinical practice, and student enrollment?

Mary Le Johnson: The School of Dentistry needed to meet the needs of many programs—general dentistry and six specialties, dental hygiene, and residency programs. The center of clinical education and patient care for all of these programs is the operatory, and we included over 280 of those in our design. However, most dental schools have individual bays that are highly tailored to each of these programs, and we wanted to create a space with more flexibility. So instead, we designed open bays that are similar in equipment and size. This means that as programs or specialties grow, they can operate in bays that were previously in use by other departments.

AK: How have you seen the school benefit to date from the focus on flexibility?

MLJ: We included additional conduit in the operatory bays to allow the school to add wiring for new technologies, and we actually saw the need for this kind of flexibility even before the building was finished. The school found that they had extra money available due to cost savings. During construction the school decided to add microscopes to each of the endodontics operatory chairs to improve patient care. Since we had a pathway for additional wiring in place, we were able to make that change without impacting the overall size or design of the operatory.

AK: How did you carry these flexible design elements beyond clinical facilities?

MLJ: We know that administrative spaces, and particularly faculty offices, can be an area of contention during periods of growth, and we wanted our design to ease future conversations about these spaces. Therefore, we made every faculty office identical in size and layout, and also created communal spaces like the copy and storage rooms with the same size specifications as faculty offices. That way, if growth does outpace expectations, those spaces can be converted into additional offices while preserving equitable space allocations. We even incorporated flexibility into the attached University Life conference center, which features a dividable, flat floor multipurpose room rather than a sloped auditorium with fixed seats, and extra wide corridors adjacent to the classrooms which double as collaborative learning spaces and social spaces for students.

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