Chris Shaw found rich pickings for those interested in health design in a recent issue of a somewhat out-of-the-ordinary periodical.
There is a noticeable shift in the concerns of those evaluating investment in NHS away from simple assessment of function and quantum towards quality of experience and long-term value. This can be problematic in a culture driven by PFI-procurement and tick box performance indicators. Quality is a difficult arena where the measurable is hard to find and successful outcomes seem to come from the subtle interaction of a range of variables rather than crude ingredients. We need to become more adept at discussing those matters that contribute to the quality of experience for patients, staff and society at large.
Take a look at the periodicals rack in any estates manager’s, engineer’s or architect’s office and you will find plenty of magazines dealing with professional and technical matters but probably fewer looking at qualitative concerns of culture, aesthetics and sustainability. Fourth Door Review is an eclectic publication from Sussex that aims to fill this gap. I have no idea of the significance of the title or whether there were three earlier doors.
Published roughly annually, Fourth Door Review explores relationships between ecology and technology, art and architecture, and new media and new music. Part book-part magazine, the magazine offers in-depth essay-features and interviews alongside short overviews, across a spectrum of connections contemporary art, design, craft and architecture are making with new technologies, sustainability and ecological perspectives.
The periodical format is 140 pages, A4 colour, using (their words) nice touchy-feely eco paper with a paperback spine. The distinctly unglossy cover, low-impact layout and mysterious title lend it an air of ‘alternative’ quasi-literary ambition. It is worth getting a feeling for the publication by visiting the website www.fourthdoor.co.uk but don’t be put off. The seventh edition has just been published, entitled ‘The Blue Pollen Issue’ and featuring healthcare design. Through the issue there are well-written pieces examining the design of Maggies Cancer Centres, an excellent piece on ecological design featuring Martin Rauch’s rammed-earth Feldenkirch Hospital, Austria and a piece by Sue Francis on design and procurement in the NHS.
It is hard to think why someone interested in hospital design should also read a piece on sustainability in clothing fashion (really no-wash jumpers) or the history of the Aleutian Islands’ Baidarka skin-covered kayaks. These sit alongside properly referenced pieces on the sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, Norwegian Jazz artist Jan Garbarek and pieces on hermetic consciousness and dyslexia.
Articles are brought together under group headings; ‘architects’ or ‘dream of consciousness’. Sometimes this works, occasionally the juxtaposition is a bit jarring. Throughout there is a concern for the sensory experience and sustainability. A piece on timber engineering at Lausanne Institute of Technology, exploring impressive large span structure, discusses both the technical design and construction but also the philosophy embracing local reforestation and employment.
Reading the magazine feels like browsing through the record collection of someone you are barely acquainted with. The facets of individual persona come through leaving a somewhat uncomfortable into the person and a more complex resonance than committee-crafted playlist. The personality in this case is the publisher Oliver Lowenstein, who is obviously indulging his fascination in the range of topics covered.
Not surprisingly there are virtually no advertisements. Some of the content is quite demanding and the structure and layout a bit intimidating when set alongside more mainstream publications. There is nothing else quite like this.
And there is its strength. If you can accept the highly personal mix of topics there is a wonderful, thought-provoking material. The themes are both directly and indirectly relevant to those involved in design and healthcare environments. The standard of writing is good, some of the illustration is curious at times, and the layout variable. The melange of subject matter will not be to everyone’s taste but in my view this is good intellectual nourishment.
Chris Shaw is director of MAAP Architects