Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Dental Hospital of Sydney

Cite this

Dental Hospital of Sydney

In 1939, dental experts praised the nearly completed Dental Hospital of Sydney for being one of the largest and best-equipped free oral clinics in the world. [1] Situated opposite Central Railway Station, the Dental Hospital would provide dental services for those unable to afford them, as well as space and equipment for dentistry students at the University of Sydney. Architecture firm Stephenson & Turner designed a modernist building heavily influenced and inspired by the style and functionalism of European architecture. With an illuminated tower of glass and long bands of windows that emphasised its striking wedge shape, the Dental Hospital of Sydney drew international attention for its world-class design and oral hygiene services.

The establishment of the Dental Hospital of Sydney

In September 1901 members of the New South Wales dental profession proposed the need for a dedicated dental hospital for the impoverished thousands who suffered from poor oral health and were unable to afford dental services. Recognising the benefits for individuals and the community as a whole, dental practitioners established the Dental Hospital of Sydney in Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills, with many dentists providing free services. The Dental Hospital Unions Bill 1904 provided for the amalgamation of the Dental Hospital of Sydney and the University Dental Hospital which had been opened in 1901 by the University of Sydney).

The objective of the new institution, to be known as the United Dental Hospital of Sydney, was 'to provide gratuitous advice, surgical aid, and other treatment in all diseases of the mouth and teeth to the poor and necessitous.' [2]

In 1911, the Dental Hospital moved to a new, purpose-built facility on Chalmers Street. The Government provided the site and the cost of the four-storey building while members of the dental profession and the public funded the equipment. [3] Patients came from near and far, with the elderly, invalid and children making up the largest percentage of the patients.

By the early 1930s the building could no longer cope with the demands of the public and the requirements of the advancing dental profession. The new building, completed in 1940, one of the first to be partially paid for by a grant from the State Lottery, secured Sydney's place as a world leader in dental hygiene services. [4]

Stephenson & Turner and modernist architecture

The Dental Hospital of Sydney commissioned distinguished architecture firm Stephenson & Turner (formerly Stephenson & Meldrum) to design a new building that would serve the dual purpose of providing modern and efficient treatment for the poor and a functional training ground for dental students. [5] Stephenson & Turner had a reputation as leaders in hospital architecture in the 1930s and researched overseas design, planning and engineering. [6] Arthur Stephenson's research trip to America, Britain and Europe in 1932–33 laid the foundation for hospital design over the next two decades.

The Dental Hospital of Sydney is a synthesis of Stephenson's admiration for the Dutch use of colour in architecture, the European modernists' expression of function through simple form and appropriate materials, and the general principles of providing light and air for hospital patients. [7]

A modern building for modern dentistry

The Dental Hospital of Sydney demonstrated Stephenson & Turner's distinctly modern architectural language. Taking advantage of the constrained site where Chalmers and Elizabeth streets meet, Stephenson & Turner designed a wedge-shaped building rendered in red cement with white window details. It took the same form as the iconic Flatiron Building in New York City. The architects accentuated both the height and length of the building with a six-storey rounded stairwell clad in glass soaring upwards and lines of ribbon windows stretching horizontally to illuminate interior workspaces. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 1936 'the new building [would] not only be a city landmark, but [would] also dominate the architecture in that section of the city.' [8]

Inside, Stephenson & Turner utilised a colour palette of white, pale smoky blue, chromium and canary yellow – also carried throughout the dental equipment – to create a soothing and restful environment. The hospital accommodated different clinics on each floor, including a dedicated children's waiting room and surgery, a preventive dentistry department for advice on dietetics and the care of teeth, and operative facilities on the top floor to maximize natural light. Dentistry students could make use of the lecture room, museum and library; and female dental students had access to special accommodations to facilitate and encourage more women in dentistry. Additionally, a research department enabled researchers to investigate dental conditions and preventive dentistry; and a modern electric paging system aided communication between nurses, dentists and patients.

From the late 1940s to the mid 1950s, the Dental Hospital of Sydney had two floors added, was extended into the adjacent block and the colour was changed to a more neutral blue-grey. [9] Today, rendered in yellow, the building continues to accommodate the oral health professionals of Sydney Dental Hospital.


Goad, Philip, Wilken, Rowan and Julie Willis. Australian Modern: The Architecture of Stephenson & Turner. Melbourne: Miegunyah Press (Melbourne UP), 2004.



[1] 'Half Million Lottery Tickets Built a Hospital,' Sydney Morning Herald, 23 October, 1939, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17628151

[2] 'Proposed Dental Hospital,' Sydney Morning Herald, 25 September, 1901, 8, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14411966; 'The New Dental Hospital,' Sydney Morning Herald, 24 December, 1904, 7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14623248; 'Dentistry for the Poor,' Sydney Morning Herald, 7 January, 1921, 11, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16882714

[3] 'United Dental Hospital,' Sydney Morning Herald, 14 December, 1911, 11, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15296420

[4] 'Half Million Lottery Tickets Built a Hospital', Sydney Morning Herald, 23 October, 1939, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17628151

[5] 'Dental Service for Poor,' Sydney Morning Herald, 27 August, 1938, 10, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17472731. Established in 1921 as Stephenson & Meldrum, named for Arthur George Stephenson (1890–1967) and Percy Hayman Meldrum (1887–1968), the firm became known as Stephenson & Turner in 1937 when Meldrum left the practice and Donald Keith ‘Skipper’ Turner (1895–1964) became a head of the company

[6] Rowan Wilken, 'For Health and Prosperity: "The Colossus’ of Australian Architecture,"' in Goad, Philip, Wilken, Rowan and Julie Willis, Australian Modern: The Architecture of Stephenson & Turner (Melbourne: Miegunyah Press (Melbourne UP, 2004), 3

[7] Julie Willis, 'The Health of Modernism: Expression and Efficiency in Hospital Architecture, 1925–1967,' Goad, Philip, Wilken, Rowan and Julie Willis, Australian Modern: The Architecture of Stephenson & Turner (Melbourne: Miegunyah Press (Melbourne UP, 2004), 15–18

[8] 'Building and Construction,' Sydney Morning Herald, 15 September, 1936, 6, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17291857

[9] 'New Dental Building, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 September, 1947, 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27896582