Sharing premises can be difficult, especially when the available space is uninviting. ARCA Unlimited used reclaimed timber and natural light to provide Smile Solutions Dental Studio with a rejuvenated look that is designed for well-being.

Creating space

The area available for the practice was dark and divided into a series of small claustrophobic spaces, arranged at different levels around a service yard. The building was also hidden behind a high solid brick wall, resulting in an uninviting and unwelcoming first impression, with restrictive access.

To achieve better natural light conditions, the service yard was transformed to become a landscaped courtyard and brick walls facing the consultation spaces and surgeries were replaced with glass shopfronts. At the heart of the courtyard, a Japanese maple tree grows up to an oval-shaped roof opening. This species of tree was selected for its seasonal colour changes, ranging from green to burgundy and scarlet before ultimately dropping in the winter to reveal the dark-red bark.

Oval shapes and spiralling curves provide relief to the otherwise rigid geometry, a loose play on the similarities between dentistry and Japanese landscape gardens – aspiration to naturalistic curated end-results.

To create a more welcoming entrance, a large section of the perimeter wall was demolished and replaced with a transparent steel gate and fence, providing views from the road through the reception area to the courtyard. The reclaimed reception counter was intentionally moved away from this axis – not only to provide clear views, but also to be less intimidating – a learning from hospitality design.

Floor finishes alternate between white terrazzo and reclaimed teak, with walls mostly simply smooth plastered and painted. Both floor and wall finishes are repeated both on the interior and exterior to blur the lines between inside and outside spaces.

Natural finishes

Nature and healing are synonymous, a concept pertinent in spaces that are designed for well-being. The main materials throughout the building are timber, steel and a painted brick wall. These elements together have a sense of ease about them and is supplemented with ample natural light to create a relaxing patient environment.

Timber is made to be the heavier element in this building, given its composition, colour and close cladding. This gives off a rather complex duality of a light structure claiming authority in the presence of steel and brick, which are less consistent or rather appear in lighter shades. This is a beautiful experience of the seamless compositions of materials in spaces that are accentuated by the natural lighting itself.

Function of elements

The presence of timber and flora has an uplifting psychological effect on patients and general users of the spaces. Timber is optically the heaviest element in the rooms and juxtaposed with largely transparent wall treatments, provides both a sense of substance and trust. This juxtaposition of elements makes the spaces feel lighter, and this is also edified by the continuity afforded by the internal glass fittings that allow light throughout the building.

Heading towards the back of house, the timber flooring becomes more dominant and balances the illumination levels towards the offices and patient rooms. However, the visual continuity does not stop there, as the walls still carry this phenomenon on making the spaces seem bigger than they are.

Sustainable design

The skylight brings it all to fruition. The white walls adequately reflect the light, decreasing the need for artificial lighting during office hours. White as a colour is known to be an energy reviver in feng shui. It is used very meticulously and functionally on the floors, walls and ceilings – not only to carry out the light, but also to showcase a clean and sterile practice and act as a neutral medium for earthly tones.

The sunlight entering through the skylight can be a concern, considering the heat island effect and impact on the temperature. A planter falls directly below to mitigate that, reducing the heat island effect significantly, while the absorption of heat is beneficial at night as it warms up the spaces during cooler times.

Client comments

“After 25 years in the same practice, we were hesitant to relocate. However, our new premises ticks all the boxes. We now have ample natural light and a calm and relaxed environment. We love the real timber floors! The striking design is well received by patients and is regularly a talking point. Stress levels are much reduced, not only for patients but also for the dental personnel. We could not be happier with the end-result.”

For more information, contact ARCA Unlimited:
Tel: +27 12 346 4023

For more projects like these, subscribe to our free magazine on Sign up for our newsletter: or join other discussions on, and

Subscribe to our Community👇

Stay Inspired, Stay Educated, Stay Informed

By subscribing you agree to receive our promotional marketing materials. You may unsubscribe at any time.

We keep your data private.