UNC School of Dentistry Welcomes
Modern Era with Dedication of New Building
At the end of April, the
The UNC School of Dentistry started out of a Quonset hut in some woods near the UNC Hospital in 1954. A few years later the “Old Dental Building” was erected and set the school on the path to being one of the South’s finest. However in 1969 the school opened Brauer Hall, 5-story complex that housed both clinical and educational spaces. It was an important step as the school was able to both grow its class sizes and split its clinics into specialized spaces.
However as the next couple of decades passed, the school found itself unable to keep up with the state’s burgeoning population, and found itself with outdated clinical spaces that no longer met the standards of modern dental technology. With a boost from Butler leader Bud Tarrson and his wife Linda, the school opened Tarrson Hall, a 5-story companion to Brauer Hall, in 1997 that solely included clinical spaces to meet the school’s needs.
While Tarrson Hall greatly improved the patient care the school provided, it was an architectural paradox. At the dismay of myself and many Class of 1996 classmates, the school chose to extend the 1969 Internationalist façade from Brauer Hall onto Tarrson Hall. Yes, it was aesthetically consistent, but so are his-and-hers El Caminos. Functionally, however, the folks at Odell in Charlotte designed a masterpiece. Tarrson Hall pulled the patient experience toward the corner of the complex closest to the parking decks, allowing the school to renovate the opposite end of the school in a manner that best satisfied educational and research needs. No longer were patients seen ambling through student locker rooms and janitors’ closets looking for hidden clinical spaces. Tarrson simply restored logic to was the functional spaghetti of the 70s and 80s dental complex.
In 2000 the citizens of North Carolina approved a massive bond initiative that saw every UNC campus greatly improve its physical campus. At the end of this parade is the Koury Oral Health Sciences “building”. Composed of two fused buildings that greatly resemble hotels in the game Monopoly, the facility replaces two minor buildings of the once 5-building dental complex. It adds a new hands-on simulation lab for teaching clinical skills to dental students, a large auditorium, a large classroom, research labs, and numerous conference spaces. Not only will current and future students benefit, but also practicing dentists, as continuing education courses can perhaps find their way back into the “schoolhouse”. Koury is its own building, but that is easy to forget as architects utilized the resulting gangway as a large multipurpose atrium.
I took a brief tour of the facility last week and was duly impressed with the amount of detail and foresight that went into not only the design but the execution as well. The building is so well integrated that one is almost surprised to encounter any disconnect with the old complex.
It is better to think of Koury as a crescent that lines the western border of the complex. The needs for this building are quite different than those served by Brauer Hall, so architects eschewed floor height constraints set forth by the existing complex. Lab and large class spaces need high ceilings, so each floor is taller than those in Brauer, which creates a “malocclusion”, if you will, between the upper floors in the complex. The connection to Brauer Hall’s third floor is on a floating stairway landing, and connections to the Old Dental building are engaged by stairway landings and a two-sided elevator as well.
The teaching lab space in Koury is fantastic, easily serving a class size of 100 or more (Since 1969 the school could accommodate class sizes in the 75-83 range). Not only is the space bigger, the lab benches are updated with brand new equipment, and the A/V presentation system is up to date. More impressive, though, is the open space afforded by surprisingly few columns. This is more helpful to large class lab teaching than one would initially expect. The column issue is quickly noticed upon entering one of the recently renovated labs in Brauer Hall.
The large auditorium and the classroom are also fantastic, and are on par with the superb facilities found in other graduate school spaces on campus such as the Kenan-Flagler Business School. Additionally, the lab spaces are excellent, and presumably are the finest educational setting dental lab research spaces in the world.
As the science of Dentistry has evolved of the last half-century, so has the science of Education. In our four year period in the school, we were largely “lectured at” in lecture halls scattered throughout the dental and medical complex. They were cramped, run-down auditoriums that had been long-since converted into low-rise movie theater arrangements. Today’s era of education, however, advocates many more small group/discussion experiences. We saw hints of this style coming on in the 90’s, but the school, frankly, did not have the facilities to host such a model. Koury affords several locations for small group learning. I counted six conference rooms, but other minor spaces also exist.
The delivery of information has greatly changed since the mid-90’s. When we were not in lecture halls, we were in the basement of the Health Science Library viewing tapes of the driest of content. Now with the internet aiding this content’s delivery and the variety of spaces in Koury, students can learn the same material in a variety of ways with more flexibility.
The L-shaped atrium is one of the most fascinating pieces to the new dental complex. What was once a baron, dirty service entrance to Brauer Hall is now an excellent multipurpose space. Hallways in all of Koury’s five floors overlook the space which is largely lit by skylights during the day. The floor space of the atrium contains a new offering to the dental complex; a snack bar. The adjoining tables in the atrium all are located near numerous inset electrical receptacles in the floor, so the space can be used for small group study and other purposes at any hour.
Perhaps the most interesting element to the atrium, however, is the multifunctional elevator/stair column that now sits in the old connector space between Brauer Hall and the Old Dental Building. The landing facing the rest of the atrium contains a lectern, allowing one to address the cavernous room. From the the lecturer’s point of view, the atrium floor is not the only location imagined for the audience. There are perches on higher floors as well as the far corners of the atrium. This allows excellent sightlines for the audience of potentially hundreds in a space that for so many similar projects is discarded.
Most notable to drivers on Manning Driver, however, is the new pedestrian bridge that connects the second floor of Koury to the cafeteria in the Bowles building. This is another example of flawless design and execution, as pedestrians no longer have to dangerously cross one of UNC’s grand avenues.
Crossing the bridge is a pleasing experience. The walkway is covered in bricks, and feels like a continuation of the plaza spaces on each end, and is consistent with the more aesthetic older areas of the campus. The east view from the bridge is one of the best public views in Chapel Hill, too. Finally, the drainage system for the bridge is outstanding without causing a danger to those wearing heels.
There are a few problems with the additional facilities, though. The entire West façade of the South half of Koury integrates the sidewalk, offering pedestrians a covered walkway insulated from cars on Columbia Street. However this cover stops short of the Koury main pedestrian entrance, leaving a disjointed experience. Furthermore, the walkway extending north to the Health Sciences Library immediately swerves toward the road and exposes pedestrians to what is essentially a highway. Also, there is a clearing of land where the old Dental Office Building was that could have been converted into a small transportation plaza that would have been better than the current Health Sciences Library bus stop.
Also, the west end of the atrium floor is on a level that is a couple of steps up from the main room. These two terrazzo steps, found at the bottom of the main Koury staircase, are not permanently marked and are not seen easily by those who have completed their move down the stairs. Finally, the receptacles in the floor of the atrium are already getting torn up by the café furniture. A different design is needed for these to continue to be functional and safe.
There is so much more to the Koury building than can be appreciated in a simple tour during a dormant week for the school. A whole chapter could be written about the lab spaces as well as the building’s pursuit of LEED Gold certification. However it is fair to say that the complex almost perfectly satisfies the needs of the school in the Modern Era. The steering committee, designers at Flad & Associates, and builders are to be commended for making the UNC School of Dentistry the marquis dental education facility in the world for years to come.
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