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Building a new dental office? Ask lots of questions!

Oct. 12, 2022
All professions include their own lingo. So if you don't understand what the architect is talking about, ask!

How much do those in a profession use simple lingo? I would argue a tremendous amount. We even have a phrase in English for achieving a good understanding of the lingo—well-versed. Even if you’ve never thought about it, I believe you’ll recognize that there are degrees to which someone actually cares about how much they understand any professional conversation.

Do you need to know the year of adoption of the statute the attorney is discussing? Probably not. Do you have to know that the termite guy wishes he could still use chlordane? Definitely not. Do you care what the terms are that the surgeon is discussing? (Well, in that case I’d probably take careful notes and look it all up on Google later.) 

Architects use lingo too, and when they’re building or redesigning your office, you should not hesitate to be bold about stopping them in their tracks and asking, “What does that mean for me exactly?” 

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For instance, one of them might say, “We’ve got a very regimented progression coming into this node, and with the larger volume created at that point I’d like to set up a natural release leading you into the treatment bay.” 

Um, what?

Unfamiliar terminology

In my experience, potentially unfamiliar terminology falls into four categories.

  1. Technical: having to do with codes, structure, construction, regulations, and more. Examples are shear, vapor barriers, bearing, occupant-load, type V-N, and business classification.
  2. Components: the pieces of architecture and construction that have common names. These include bulkhead, cove, knee-wall, pilaster, and cornice.
  3. Experiential: descriptions of the concepts, feel, and goals. Examples are flow, transparency, inside-out, sharing space, light, heavy, solid, floating, and planes.
  4. Design type: some categories of architecture and style are classic, modern, transitional, eclectic, and more. 

The importance of these categories  

The purely technical terms are something you can choose to care about or not. The professionals you’ve hired are on board to navigate you through all of it. Bear in mind that sometimes a technical aspect is firmly controlling “what we can do here.” Equally as likely, there will be choices that need to be made per-something-technical that involve cost. In these cases, don’t let simple terminology get in the way. It’s important that you know and understand all the “why” involved in order to make an informed decision. There are much simpler terms for everything. Ask for them. 

The components of design and construction are the true second language of architects, and it is very important that you understand what a term means when it comes up in conversation. “You used ‘bulkhead’ and ‘soffit’ in describing that opening. What’s the difference?” I would also encourage you to ask for a “scribble” if words simply aren’t doing it. We architects are visual creatures and should be able to show you quickly and easily. 

In the hands of a good designer, your project will develop as a total experience, from the street view to the parking lot, from the front door through every one of the areas and processes of the office, the architect will think about the moving, sitting, chatting and interactions in every space, and working to bring it into a unified whole. 

Enhancing these experiences is what good design is all about. Discussions here are filled with the elements of design and the feeling of being in and moving through the spaces, and what makes it special. This is the fun part, so go with it! Two cautions: 1. Don’t accept all talk. Require the imagery if you need it. 2. Don’t let flowery language or intention run contrary to your strongly held desires. After all, this is your office! 

Style words confuse even me, and a Google search of what they all mean will reinforce that point. Beyond the basic ideas of traditional and modern, I encourage you to find actual photos of what you like, point to them, and let your designer(s) worry about the terminology. 

Architecture is a unique art that ends up in small mountains of drawings and specifications. Along the way, there are bound to be unfamiliar topics and discussions. Don’t let this become uncomfortable; just ask. Heck, even right out of architecture school we’re filled with unending questions; the vernacular can be overwhelming. 

Good luck with it all!

Editor's note: This article appeared in the October 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

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