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A Healing Place

the original, make a walk around the complex an aesthetic adventure.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) would have loved the original DHMC mall. It is to Piranesi's etchings that we owe much of our culture's reverence for ancient Rome. What he loved to create were romanticized images of grand interiors, with ornate classical detailing that made high drama out of contrasts between light and dark. Precisely the same effect is achieved by the west-facing wall of the original mall, with a textured surface that looks especially rich when sunshine filters through a band of skylights above. On the east-facing side of the original mall, three levels of walkways terrace backward, emphasizing the importance of this wall as theater. Overall, the design beckons visitors to cast a vertical eye.

By contrast, the East Mall is all horizontal lines. [For more about the old and new malls, see the video.] Both malls fill essentially the same function, linking the various components of the facility in a way that is clear and logical. But where the walkways along the old mall are stepped, in the new mall the top two walkways float overhead. Beneath these floating walkways are recessed lines of light and curved oak panels. Compared to their older counterparts, the skylights on the East Mall are relatively modest; the daylight here comes principally from a glass "curtain wall" that forms the new eastern facade of the complex. [For more about "curtain walls," see the video.]

Given that the original mall formed the core of the DHMC campus, it is no coincidence that the new mall has migrated to the edge of the building. "We tried to situate the circulation on the exterior as much as possible—it really helps orient people," explains Judge. The people she has in mind are people under stress: Patients who have just been diagnosed with cancer, perhaps. Or family members who have just witnessed the death of a loved one. Or parents who have just learned that their failure-to-thrive baby has cystic fibrosis.

On DHMC's new East Mall—both on the main level (below right), which links the new and renovated clinical areas, and on the upper walkways (above, in the Cancer Center)—the design aesthetic is horizontal.

I wonder if the architecture critics who win Pulitzers, like Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune or Robert Campbell of the Boston Globe, try to write about buildings within which they've cried in front of strangers.

"They've had a major trauma—they're scared," observes Judge. "Whatever we can do to orient them is helpful."

Personally, I have found opportunities for seclusion to be just as valuable as the orientation aids. For those who are feeling traumatized, being able to walk between destinations and know there's little chance of encountering friends or neighbors is important. In the original DHMC complex, "backstage" passageways parallel the mall and provide a way for patients, their families, and caregivers to move about out of the public eye.

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