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Katherine Shonfield

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February. Hangover time at best. And now it is post-millennium hangover time. Getting blind drunk means shutting your eyes. In our February morning after, the very nastiest hangovers from the last century - Nazism in Austria and denial of the Holocaust - won't go away. But the grey light of late winter reveals an entirely other residue from the past, equally solid and present.

One of the most immovable legacies of the twentieth century is our sense that 'science' cannot be controlled, that we are the victims of it. Architecture rode with this idea for a long time and tried to make the best of it. We called it functionalism.

The hospital, of all our public spaces, is where you would expect the demands of science to reign supreme, the place you would expect to have been most dictated to by its inexorable dehumanising rule.

But consider this:

Twenty-five years ago, visits were allowed from two until four in the afternoon. Now you can turn up 24 hours a day.

Twenty-five years ago, there was a back door. Now there is an atrium full of paintings and sculpture, a place of life and light.

Twenty-five years ago, you passed on. Now you die.

Twenty-five years ago, there was a ward with curtains and a trolley waiting for the mortuary. Now there is a room with flowers, and a chapel.

Twenty-five years ago, there was a corridor and abandonment. Now there is a room to gather, a pay phone, and a nurse who brings you tea, sandwiches and understanding.

Twenty five years ago, there were frightening lies. And now there is humane truth.

To experience a good National Health hospital now, in February 2000, is to learn that we can control our destiny, we are not victims, and we can and will determine our future to the demands of our humanity before all else.

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