A new Broome

The exterior of Rudeforth Dental.
The exterior of Rudeforth Dental. Photo by Edward Tran.

Edward Tran

In the far-west town of Broome, Dr Bruce Rudeforth had to battle with more than just a new practice design. He also took on a crocodile… and won. By Frank Leggett


If you are going to build a new dental practice in Broome, Western Australia, you’d better be prepared to build it to last. Situated in one of the most picturesque parts of Australia, Broome is a major gateway to the Kimberley region and home to the 22-kilometre-long Cable Beach. It is also smack bang in the middle of cyclone territory so any new buildings need to comply with the wind loading code in order to resist a cyclone that may hit the area.

This was uppermost in the mind of Dr Bruce Rudeforth when he decided to build a new practice from scratch back in 2011. “I tried over a long period of time to buy a building that could be used as a dental surgery but shire zoning and planning regulations beat me every time,” says Dr Rudeforth. “There was so much difficulty in trying to use a residential building for professional purposes that I was about to give up.”

His answer came in the shape of an old state government house that had been used for employee housing. It was zoned as mixed use so there was no problem in converting it to a dental surgery.

Unfortunately the house was over 50 years old, contained asbestos and had so many unknowns that there was only one solution. “We bowled over the old place, designed the new one and built it on a fixed-price contract,” explains Dr Rudeforth.

He had spent years planning the perfect dental practice in his mind and knew exactly what he wanted. It was Nathan Laird of Engawa Architects that helped make his concept a reality. They worked together integrating Dr Rudeforth’s floorplan with all the required building code regulations and requirements. “I had to modify my expectations a little bit but the end result was incredibly successful,” says the dentist.

The interior of Rudeforth Dental.
The interior of Rudeforth Dental. Photo by Edward Tran.

The rationale of the building started from a very pragmatic place. “In order to create a practical, cyclone-ready design for Broome, we decided to go with a straight gable roof and extend the eaves to provide additional shading,” says Nathan Laird. “That idea then fed onto the rest of the building.”

Laird extended the eaves out to 1500mm, far beyond the industry standard of 900mm. The eaves are supported by angled struts that are, in turn, bolted to the ground. This effectively encases the entire structure, making it incredibly sturdy and cyclone-proof.

“We realised we could create shading and screening by running timber down the struts. Then, looking at the end treatment of the building, we decided to make the roof/wall wrap work double duty as a seat for patients,” says Laird.

One of the briefing elements was to place the entire building on stumps. Having The Broome Dentist building off the ground allowed Dr Rudeforth to run all the services under the floor and fit all the equipment himself. “I can just slither under the building and place suction or hydraulics wherever I want,” he says. This also means it is very easy to make changes and move things around in the future.

The Engawa firm also wanted the building to draw on Broome’s character. Early buildings used corrugated iron and jarrah timber from southern timber mills, and both these elements are used in the Rudeforth dental surgery.

“A lot of the old buildings had steep pitched gable roofs in order to deal with the rain and to also capture the natural cooling breezes,” explains Laird. “That’s where we started with Bruce’s dental surgery. Even though it was going to be an air-conditioned office, the screening puts less heat load on the building and the air-conditioning doesn’t have to work as hard.”

Not only does the jarrah timber wrap make the structure cyclone ready, work as a cooling screen and double as a seating area, it was also instrumental in getting the building nominated for an Australian Timber Design Award in 2011.

“Rather than having a straight line between inside and outside, we tried to break that down so you get a slow transition from internal to external,” says Laird. “That’s essentially what Engawa Architects is all about. Engawa is a Japanese word that means verandah but if you break it down further, it also means not inside and not outside.”

The final result is a dental surgery that is functional, stylish and fits in beautifully with the ambience of the town. “I’ve seen so many professional people working in little rat holes and then they go home to a palace,” says Dr Rudeforth. “And I think, where do you spend most of your day? I’m more than happy with my surgery. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

While urban Australia may consider Broome a bit of a frontier town, the residents tend to disagree. “Broome boxes above its weight division,” says Nathan Laird. “The town is full of working professionals and locals who have dedicated their lives to making Broome what it is today.” Dr Rudeforth agrees. “It’s a very sophisticated place.”

However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Broome has a vast wilderness right on its doorstep—and it can be dangerous. Dr Rudeforth can attest to that fact as he is also a member of a unique group—people who have survived a crocodile attack. Back in 2011, while he was out fishing, a 2.5-metre-long saltwater crocodile leapt into his tinny and latched onto his chest and shoulder. The crocodile only let go after Dr Rudeforth stood up and elbowed it in the throat. A fellow dentist on the fishing trip stitched up his wounds and they continued fishing for a few more days. Needless to say, the experience hasn’t stopped Dr Rudeforth from enjoying any of his outdoor pursuits.

And maybe that’s what makes Broome such an attractive place to live. It’s a sophisticated, multicultural community with the wildness of the Kimberley just next door. Not such a bad place to be a dentist!


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