The 1904 Dentists Act gave impetus to the establishment of formal university training for the dentists in New Zealand, placing the training and examination of dental surgeons in New Zealand under the control of the University. In June 1905 the Dental Association was formed, and during that same month Otago University appointed a committee headed by Sir Thomas Sidey, to consider the setting up of a school of dentistry. Sir Thomas Hunter as a member of the Dental Association and President of the Otago Branch in 1906 spearheaded the profession by presenting its views to the University, and aiding in the donation which facilitated the construction of the first school building.
The formation of the School of Dentistry came out of a 1906 conference of the New Zealand Dental Association, which resulted in a £1,000 donation towards this task, and a subsidy from the government of £1,500, making possible the erection of the first Dental School building at the corner of Castle and Union Streets (now the University Staff Club). It was one of the first such facilities in the Commonwealth to be directly associated with a University. From its inception in 1907, under its first Dean H.P. Pickerill, it had full status as an independent faculty. Dental Hospitals in England, Canada and Australia existed in the early twentieth century, but they were independent institutions, supported by voluntary contributions, and controlled by local dental practitioners, and usually financially embarrassed. By 1920 there were 100 students on the roll, putting pressure on the facilities, resulting in growing public concern.
In 1926 the second School of Dentistry building was opened, on Great King Street, closer to the hospital and medical school. It was designed to accommodate 80-100 students. The building housed a prosthetic and technical laboratory, operating theatre, X-ray room, a museum, a library, and various clinics and laboratories. The main clinic ran the length of the second floor of the building.
By the 1940s this facility too was under pressure, with around 200 students enrolled at the School. With space and funding difficulties, the School found it difficult to fulfil its major roles: proper training of students, provision of facilities for post-graduate study, carrying out research, and conducting an adequate dental hospital service for the Dunedin community. Classes were being conducted in cramped conditions with out-dated equipment.
Planning for a new building was underway in the late 1940s, with the appointment of the new Dean, Australian John Walsh, whose stated priority was for a new School. Progress was not smooth, encountering opposition from the University Council, which had other building priorities. The first approach to the Government for a new dental school was made by the Otago University Council in 1947. In the following year the Government gave authorisation for the preparation of plans. Early in 1949 the site was announced, and before the end of the year the Labour Cabinet approved plans for the new building. After a change of Government, the project was reviewed, and it was not until April 1953 that the Minister of Education recommended first priority for the school to Cabinet.
The construction of the Dental School was part of what architectural historian Peter Shaw called a period of "unprecedented Government-sponsored building activity", and what Clark and Walker note as opportunity to do impressive work, which fitted into "an expansive idea of nation building and with representing New Zealand as technologically modern." Stacpoole recognised the power the Government Architect developed during the post war period, with Gordon Wilson being a patron of good architecture, and also indicated the important role the engineer played in these government projects. Noonan also quotes the New Zealand Institute of Architects high regard for Wilson as buildings "flowed from the Ministry of Works, free of inhibitions and expressing the best thoughts of contemporary design. Of course Gordon would not have claimed that he was personally responsible for all of each design, but he was the man behind the gun who inspired and guided the arm ....
The designs from the office of the Government Architect in the early 1950s, starting with the 1950 Bledisloe Building in Auckland, The Dental School (1954) and the Bowen State Building (1955) showed the influence of Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, in the rectilinear forms; Wilson also introduced a strong use of block colour and glass curtain walls. In all the work of the Architectural Division a new and liberal concept in the use of colour is being explored. Bold colour schemes, internal and external, have been incorporated...." This applied particularly to the design of the Dental School.
In May 1954 Government approval was given for the new school. The original plans had to be modified as a result of the ceiling price fixed by the Government. Prime Minister Holland released the details of the new Dental School on 20 October 1954. The plans comprised a five-storey building and penthouse providing a total of 84,000 square feet (7803 square metres) of space. The design was yet to be formally adopted by the University Council. An important consideration of the design was the important place the school was to form in the group of University buildings that stretched from the Medical School to the Arts Building in Union Street. Wilson endeavoured to ensure it would be an "efficient and attractive public utility but also a building that will conform to the standards one expects of an institution of higher learning." It was designed to accommodate about 250 students, dealing with up to 300 members of the public a day.
The amended plans were presented to the University Council by Wilson and a colleague. There was some doubt about the reduction in the scale from earlier versions of the plan. Wilson carefully justified the changes made, emphasising the cost-saving nature of the changes. The floor area had been reduced, as well as excessive storage space. The previously L-shaped building had been simplified to a rectangular plan, "in line with modern architectural practice." Wilson considered that the "design and structure is in repetition form." The finishes and accommodation were of a lower standard than previous plans, while still comparing with the best buildings in United States and England. The ceilings were lowered by a foot to 12ft 6 inches, thereby reducing heating costs, an important consideration in Dunedin. The University Council approved the Government Architects plans for the Dental School in February 1955, at an estimated cost of £500,000.
The concrete floor slab was poured in July 1957, attracting much local attention and onlookers. In one day the Christchurch-based contractors poured 90 cubic feet of concrete. The pouring was done with small three-wheeled self-propelling bins, a particular attraction to the watching crowd.
The foundation stone was laid by Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Keith Holyoake on the 6 November 1957. By this stage the ground floor slab had been laid for half the building, while at the south end work had advanced to the first floor slab. There had been delays to construction caused by concern about the subsoil conditions.
An important component of the building was the sculpture commissioned by Dunedin sculptor Frederick Staub. Staub, former head of Ceramics at the Otago School of Art, and later Head of that School, had also collaborated with prominent Christchurch sculptor and art teacher Francis Shurrock (1887-1977) on the bronze figures - 'History' and 'Thread of Life' (1957) on Signal Hill Centennial Memorial, and completed art works in other city buildings, including a commission for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (1967-1970).
After five years of construction the building was opened by the Minister of Education, the Hon. W.B. Tennant. The spacious, stimulating environment offered by the modern building was an aid to the national job of training, treatment and research in dentistry. The Dental School had an important role in a "country that has the doubtful distinction of one of the highest incidences of dental caries in the world", and it was hoped that the new facilities would make notable advances for the community as well as the University.
Contemporary newspaper accounts emphasised the cheerful impression on visitors, even if they were suffering! The patient
first sees a floor of grey lino-tiles streaked with brick, another with an intriguing geometrical pattern in blue and white tile. The wall behind is almost entirely of glass, a hanging staircase disappears above, and straight in front is the reception office in panelled wood and glass.
In the clinics with capacity for 60 people, the patient's eye met "sleek, new dental chairs, units and cabinets finished in salmon coloured enamel."
All the way through, the light, airy, spacious design of the building is arresting. The extensive use of glass and bright, pleasing colour draws exclamations of surprise from all visitors.
The quality of the design was appreciated by architects of the period. Justine Clark and Paul Walker in Looking for the Local note that Wellington's Architectural Centre, a group made up of prominent architects in the 1960s, recommended that visiting British architectural historian Nicholas Pevsner visit the Otago Dental School as part of his itinerary. The Otago Dental School was included in a handwritten (and probably unfinished) list of twelve potential buildings to be included in a proposed (but never completed) publication on modern New Zealand architecture.
The School underwent a major upgrade in 1982, which included the replacement of most dental chairs and the upgrading of its clinics. An additional block was built, at right angles to the original, and sympathetic in style.
In the mid-1990s and early twenty-first century there raged debates about the serious under-funding of the dental school, which combined with the fee increases, put the school at risk. The University challenged the Government in the High Court over the funding cuts and fee rises, and ultimately won their case and were awarded $15 million from the Government.
In August 2001 the building was renamed the Walsh Building, in honour of Sir John Patrick Walsh, Dean of Faculty of Dentistry 1946-1971. Walsh was the driving force behind getting the school built, no mean feat when the government was considering relocating it to Auckland at that time. He was also responsible for expanding and improving the programmes, increasing staff, and starting research programmes. He was knighted for his services to dentistry in 1960. The School was renamed as a memorial to Walsh's vision and labours on behalf of the profession.
The School of Dentistry is five storeys high, including the ground floor. It is 280 ft long and 50 ft wide (85m by 15m). At the design stage the construction cost was estimated at around £500,000. It is constructed of reinforced concrete, with aluminium section and glass curtain walling at front and rear. The strong horizontal form of the building's composition was relieved by a free-standing lift tower. There is a service lift at the rear of the building. The interior was designed with the idea of flexible partitioning so that spaces could be reconfigured according to need. There was a covered walkway from the rear of the building to a raked-seating lecture theatre facing Frederick Street. It was designed to be earthquake proof, to the standards of the time. The Great King Street frontage was set back from the footpath to allow lawns to be laid down and to ensure lighting for clinical rooms and laboratories be preserved. To the rear of the building was a large lecture hall, and to the north, facilities for car parks.
The particular design features noted on its opening were the six orioles incorporated in the front façade; the two-tone white and grey plaster panels on the concrete walls at the north and south elevations of the building; and the geometric pattern obtained by the use of pre-cast concrete slabs that incorporate a mosaic at the front and rear of the separate lecture hall. The south elevation has the four Frederick Staub sculptures referred to in the body of the text mounted on the wall. They are included in the registration.
Colour was an important part of Wilson's design. It was a noted feature of this period in architecture, and bright bold colour was used widely in Wilson's other buildings, including the School of Dentistry. Blue spandrel glass and white and grey checker patterning to the end shear walls enlivened the building, and reduced its visual mass. In addition the red and black mosaic panels on the lecture theatre wall added to the artistry of the building. The mosaics are included in the registration. His interest in colour extended to including art in his designs. He argued for the employment of artists for projects in new buildings, and this is evident in a number of his buildings including the School.
The imposing main entrance is marked by a porte cochere veranda covering the driveway. The landscaped plots were considered part of the detailing of the site. A granite plaque commemorating the opening of the building was placed in front of the entrance.
The whole east and west faces of the building were largely glazed, to admit as much natural light as possible to the clinics and laboratories. The glass curtain walling begins at the first floor. The coloured sections are grey vitrolite (an opaque glass) and blue muroglass (sheet glass with enamel backing). The design, and the inclusion of aluminium sections, it was hoped, would reduce the maintenance requirements of the building.
In contrast the north and south walls were solid concrete construction to provide strength. The light construction was to effect the "maximum of economy without any sacrifice in functional efficiency."
The flat roof featured a fabric covering of malthoid, topped by a two-inch thick New Zealand-produced straw-board (compressed straw, made into a durable fire-resistant board). It was topped with a reflective layer of aluminium top sheet.
The provision of services was complex. The plumbing was particularly involved. Each dental chair and unit (more than 200 at the opening) had five services connected to it - compressed air, electricity, water, gas, and drainage. In addition the building was centrally heated with steam from a ground floor boiler-house. There was also a closed-circuit television system, so that operations could be watched on screens in the student's gallery of the operating theatre and also in lecture rooms on various floors. The school was also fitted with £70,000 of new equipment to bring it up to date with modern standards of dental training.
Facing on to Great King Street is the main public entrance and administration offices. To the south is a student's entrance, covered way to the lecture hall, common room, cafeteria, locker and toilet rooms, and main student's stairway. The whole of the north end of this floor was domestic, containing the caretaker's flat, boiler room with four large boilers for steam and hot water, and the building's own electrical substation.
The whole wing to the north of the main elevators and stairway is taken up by the hospital and casualty department, with oral diagnosis rooms, X-ray section, separate local anaesthetic and gas clinics with patients' recovery rooms, and the big operating theatre. To the south is the Dean's office, and the library with its general reading room and research facilities.
The second floor contained a large prosthetic dental laboratory, two prosthetic dentistry clinics, dental mechanics and materials laboratory and lecture rooms.
The north wing of the third floor feature a 60 chair junior conservative dentistry clinic, orthodontic and inlay laboratory, seminar and demonstration rooms. To the south was the Department of Basic Dental Sciences, with students' laboratory, museum, small laboratories and research rooms.
On the fourth floor was the senior conservative dentistry clinic (60 chairs), orthodontic and inlay laboratory, ceramics laboratory, clinical photography studio, children's clinic, Departments of Orthodontics and Periodontics, surgeries and staff rooms.
The 70 ft by 28 ft penthouse consisted of five rooms for housing animals, a food preparation room, cool room, anaesthetic room, operating theatre and service rooms.
At the time of its construction it was considered a fine example of the trends in contemporary architecture, with spacious and stimulating surrounds.
The design of the Dental School pre-dates the 1960s, when as one writer recalled "every architect working on office buildings at that time was in love with glass boxes" - and an external envelope of metal and glass detached from the structural form was all the rage. Enthusiasm developed to such an extent that warnings about the effect of these accumulating boxes would have on the urban environment were issued by the Government Architect F.G.F. Sheppard.
Robin Skinner notes that the School of Dentistry, along with the nearby Queen Mary Hospital were the first glass curtain-wall buildings in Dunedin, both polarising opinion. The initial design of the School was largely the work of Ian Reynolds, then working at the head office of the Ministry of Works in Wellington. He had recently returned from Britain, where he had worked on similar large-scale projects.
The Dental School (1954, opened 1961) was designed in the same period as landmark Modernist buildings such as F. Gordon Wilson's Bledisloe Building (1950)and Bowen State Building (1955), and Ernst Plischke's Massey House (1952-57) and Tibor Dormer's Auckland City Administration Building (designed 1954-1957, built 1964-1966). None of these buildings are registered by the NZHPT.
Massey House and the Auckland City Administration Building are included in the twenty buildings included in New Zealand entry in the Docomomo publication. Both these buildings employed glass curtain walls and concrete end walls. Massey House has been largely built in by surrounding office blocks and loses some of its impact because of this. The Dental School was nominated for inclusion into the Docomomo publication by architectural historian Robin Skinner.
The Dental School, set back from the street front, and surrounded by single-storey buildings is still as stark and startling in its Modernist intent today as it was when it opened in 1961. Its integrity and design make it an outstanding example of the International Style in New Zealand. Its use of art and colour as an integral part of its design add to its significance. It is a superb example of the work coming from the Government Architects Office during this period, viewed as progressive innovative in its approach and design.
Dental School and Lecture Theatre (1961)
1957 - 1961
New wing added, and interior updated - Colin Pilbrow (University Architect).
Reinforced concrete, aluminium section and curtain wall glazing.
Ali Bramwell and Peter Nicholls (eds), Otago Sculpture Trails: University Walk [Dunedin], University of Otago, 
T. W. H., 'A history of Dentistry in New Zealand', New Zealand Dental Association, [Dunedin?], 1980
Justine Clark and Paul Walker, 'Looking for the Local: Architecture and the New Zealand Modern', Victoria University Press, Wellington, 2000
Kenneth Davis, ''A Liberal Turn of Mind' The Architectural Work of F. Gordon Wilson 1936-1959: A cultural Analysis.', Research Report, B.Arch, University of Auckland, 1987
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Mark Stocker, 'Shurrock, Francis Aubrey 1887-1977', updated 16 December 2003 URL:http//www.dnzb.govt.nz/
4 March 1961
Vittorio Lampugnani, 'The Thames and Hudson Encyclopaedia of 20th Century Architecture', London, 1986
New Zealand Historic Places
New Zealand Historic Places
Julia Gatley, 'An Expression of Pride', No. 43, September 1993
Rosslyn J. Noonan, By Design: A Brief History of the Public Works Department Ministry of Works 1870-1970, Wellington, 1975
Otago Daily Times
Otago Daily Times
3 March 1961
Otago School of Art, 1970
Otago School of Art Centennial Exhibition Catalogue 1870-1970, 
Dennis Sharp and Catherine Cooke, The Modern Movement in Architecture: Selections from the DOCOMOMO Registers, Rotterdam, 2000, p.188
Shaw, 1997 (2003)
Peter Shaw, A History of New Zealand Architecture, Auckland, 1997
John Stacpoole and Peter Beaven, 'Architecture 1820-1970', Wellington, 1972
A fully referenced copy of this report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area Office
Documentary: Pictorial Parade No. 130 NZ National Film Unit, 1962, 10mins, b/w, 16mm. "In it's new building the Otago Dental School has facilities for training students and providing research services for the dental profession". (National Film Library Catalogue 1989)
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.