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A new precision dental center embodies Columbia University’s latest direction for oral medicine education

The facility, which nests at “the core” of the university’s Medical Center, relies heavily on technology and big data. 

January 06, 2018 |

A view from the east wing of Columbia University's new Center for Precision Dental Medicine, which is embedded within Columbia's medical school. Image: (c) Jeff Goldberg

Last month, Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine in New York debuted on the fifth floor of its Vanderbilt Clinic a 15,000-sf Center for Precision Dental Medicine, a loft-like facility that is part of a masterplan to restructure the institution’s dental education, research and practice.

The new Center—designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in collaboration with the project’s AOR and Executive Architect Jeffrey Berman—is viewed as a prototype for the dental school’s collaborative and technology-driven curriculum, and as a model for subsequent renovations and redesigns at Vanderbilt Clinic.

“This is the beginning of a new wave of dental medicine,” proclaims Lee Goldman, MD, Dean of the Facilities of Health Sciences and Medicine and CEO of Columbia’s Medical Center.

Christian Stohler, DMD, DrMedDent, Dean of Columbia’s College of Dental Medicine and a Senior Vice President of the Medical Center, says the goal of the restructuring, in part, is to add value to the dental medicine curriculum by aligning it more closely to the Medical Center.

The Center for Precision Dental Medicine is organized into two wings of practice areas, each with three “neighborhoods” that encompass eight dental chairs, faculty workstations, and digital design and fabrication areas for 3D printing of dental prosthesis.

Each of the neighborhoods includes a computer screen that allows professors to observe the students they are supervising. The 48 dental chairs, perched atop raised floors, are tricked out with sensors that are being used to collect patient data that allow the medical staff and students to identify commonalities in order to tailor oral care to the surrounding population. (The dental school, located on the university’s Washington Heights campus, provides dentistry services to local residents.)

The sensors “let Columbia to get to the bottom of the community’s wellness issues,” says Christina Nambiar, a Project Architect with Pei Cobb.

The Building Team paid close attention to patient access and comfort. The indirect lighting was designed to minimize glare. And the operatories allow for a full spectrum of procedures, barrier-free access for people with physical disabilities, and ergonomic comfort for both patients and practitioners.

The partitions that separate the procedure spaces include translucent screens that provide patient privacy and generous circulation aisles.

Curvilinear and translucent partiitions, supplied by Planmeca/Triangle, provide transparency and patient privacy. Image: Jeff Goldberg


“The idea was to make the facility as accessible as possible,” explains Ian Bader of Pei Cobb, this project’s Lead Design Architect.

The building is 89 years old, so virtually all of the fifth floor’s systems were replaced during the renovation, says Bader. These include an RFID system tracking all operations, procedures and supplies; and central air handling units for each wing with variable air volume supply fans with variable frequency drive for overhead air distribution and 100% outdoor air airside economizer.

The ventilation system was designed with a computational fluid dynamic model for airborne infection control. IT, electrical, compressed air and vacuum system and plumbing are distributed under a raised floor. A building management system controls lighting and shades.

Nambiar says the floor and ceiling materials were supplied by the same vendor, Lidner. And throughout the Center there’s an “extensive use or Corian,” says Bader.

Other Building Team members included Cosentini Associates (MEPS), Severud Associates Consulting Engineering (SE), One Lux Studio (lighting designer), Planmeca/Triangle’s Montreal office (operatory manufacturer), and Planmeca’s Helsinki office (dental chairs). 

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