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    Medicine finds the substance of style

    Virginia Postrel reports on a design-contest entry that envisions a hospital people might not find off-putting. She then notes:

    You have to be pretty obtuse to define hospital “function” without paying any attention to how the environment makes patients feel–but that’s exactly how hospitals have historically viewed the problem. Aside from the sheer ugliness of most health care environments, lots of them are also extremely confusing to navigate, adding that extra dollop of stress that patients and their loved ones so need and want.

    But of course, that’s only true of first-world hospitals, and only very recently. I’d wager it used to be that mere antisepsis and standardized-looking equipment carried a reassuring feeling of safety, standard practices, and quality control. (The layouts, I can’t think of a defense for, though hospitals are no worse than government offices, airline terminals, and all manner of other public facilities in that regard.) Louis Pasteur made his discoveries about germs only a century and a half ago, after all. And hospitals in less-developed countries still can make you yearn for ugly vinyl tile and the acrid smell of disinfectant. It’s a measure of how advanced our health care systems are that we think of sterilization as a given, something we can guarantee and work around in the process of making the environment more psychologically restful.

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