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A family-run dental practice operating in a single-storey Victorian terrace just over four metres wide is winning architectural awards.
The dental clinic, in a street lined with other single-fronted Victorian terraces in North Richmond, is on a prominent corner (Nicholson and Yarra streets) and could easily be missed when driving past.
The Victorian terrace has a new two-storey wing.Credit:Derek Swalwell 
However, the jury judging the projects in this year’s category ‘Small Project Architecture’ (Australian Institute of Architects Victorian Chapter) certainly didn’t miss the subtlety of Rob Kennon Architects’ design, awarding it the Kevin Borland Award.
“I was conscious from the outset we were working in both a heritage precinct and on one of the few commercial projects in this primarily residential zone,” says architect Rob Kennon, director of the practice.
While the Victorian terrace’s polychromatic brickwork’s front and side elevations were lightly touched, including a new contemporary-style picket fence, the rear of the building was completely removed.
“There was a poorly located ramp at the interface to the street that made the dental practice feel quite clinical,” says Kennon.
Kennon and his team used the datum lines and the materials of the Victorian terrace to create a new two-storey wing, a quiet addition to the residential street.
Grey bricks line the base of the new wing, continuing the datum line of the terrace and red bricks feature above these, with slightly curved edges to delineate the past from the present.
And while the first floor isn’t pitched like the original roof, the steel profile certainly picks up a similar rhythm, as do the operable steel shutters that create part of its form.
The timber-battened reception room is calm and serene.Credit:Derek Swalwell 
There’s still the original door to the side, complete with its arched glass, but clients are now guided towards a new ramp at the rear, made from bitumen.
“Some of our older clients are a little disorientated when they arrive (up a new ramp and through a large sliding glass door) but most think that’s it quite a novel approach and a more discrete point of arrival,” says the dental practice’s receptionist.
Rob Kennon Architects also left the party wall along this ramp quite raw, allowing the building’s history to be revealed.
In contrast to the gritty arrival sequence, the timber-battened reception room, complete with a waiting area and disabled bathroom, is calm and serene -polished concrete walls and simply famed steel windows that connect one to the narrow street.
“It should be pointed out that the design had to meet similar standards to those set for larger commercial buildings,” says Kennon, whose outstretched arms virtually extend the width of the waiting area.
Given the modest footprint, simple materials are used, including plywood lined walls with fine shadow lines between panels that exemplify the level of detail found here.
Given the space available, there was just enough room for a staff area on the first floor and, within the original terrace, three rooms, two of which are for treating patients, with the third used for preparation.
Rob Kennon Architects essentially kept the same arrangement of rooms but modified the spaces with translucent fluted glass sliding doors, allowing them to be opened to the corridor when other rooms weren’t being used.
As with the waiting area, the colour palette is soft, with grey/green joinery and walls that further add to a sense of calmness -something that most people appreciate when visiting a dentist.
Kennon describes the junction between the original building and the new, separated by an elongated slot window, as a ‘pause’.
This pause is considerably more than just that, being a clever mediation between public and private spaces, as well as responding to a heritage precinct where sensitivity is required.
And even though the budget, like the scale, was modest, there was still sufficient thought given to the furniture, with Alvar Alto’s Artek chairs and stools adding a fine Finnish sensibility.
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