In putting together the article covering IIDA’s Healthcare Interior Design Competition this year, it was difficult not to get choked up. The winners' circle comprised a wellness center for seniors, a cancer-patient infusion clinic, and a children’s hospice. So at one end of the spectrum, you have an exuberant celebration of long life and continued health for the older generation. At the other, it’s the final, soothing stop for very sick patients whose lives are ending much too soon.

So I tried to focus on the joy—and yes, the joy was there, in all three projects. Suzi Muszynski of Brinkley Sargent, who designed The Summit for the senior community in Grand Prairie, Texas, joked about how she has a fake I.D. just so she can hang out in the spa there. At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Brooklyn Infusion Center, a patient hosts a regular bridge group with her friends within the natural setting of the center’s “garden zone.” And at Bayt Abdullah Children’s Hospice in Kuwait, colorful pockets of play can be found everywhere, amid a cheerful design scheme of amorphous shapes that are both whimsical and elegant. There’s even a wheelchair-friendly Ferris wheel on the grounds.

Comfort and community were critical factors in the success of these projects, drawing on a “we’re all in this together” mentality that’s inclusive of staff, families, patients, and the community at large. And learning about these projects was a great reminder of the connection between design and actual healing. There’s function; there’s aesthetics; and then there’s the opportunity to make a significant difference in a person’s quality of life. What an amazing field this is.