I know little of a medical student’s life, but I imagine it to be a time of sensual deprivation: skin sallowed by round-the-clock exposure to artificial light, eyesight sacrificed to 25-pound textbooks, the palate scoured by stale coffee. But the Columbia medical school’s new Vagelos Education Center, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, brings those Hippocratic voles blinking into the streetscape, spreading a sense of anatomical wonder out into the city beyond the lab. From the building’s glass-walled lounges and sunlit stairs, students can look out onto the world and remind themselves that there is more to humanity than tissues, fluids, and doomed flesh. And the rest of us need only glance up Haven Avenue toward West 171st Street to see that whatever’s going on in that melty tower with the bending floors and wooden walls that flow up into the ceilings, it must involve something more creative than rote memorization.
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