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Book Review: Sustainable Healthcare Architecture

Sustainable Healthcare Architecture
Robin Guenther and Gail Vittori
Hoboken NJ, John Wiley & Sons, 2008
Code 63346
Price £39.99

Sustainability and healthcare architecture are two big subjects, each including many component topics that are themselves highly complex. For example, sustainability includes stewardship of resources – water, energy, materials, local and planetary ecology – while healthcare architecture takes in the design process, procurement and construction, ventilation, daylight, lifecycle design, ‘green’ legislation and infection control. This book appears to cover them all – or certainly it tries to – but I confess I did not have the stamina to read it from cover to cover taking in every page.

So to preface my comments, I offer some statistics. There are some 400 pages of text and illustrations and 24 pages of bibliography and references. The book is divided into three parts: Part 1 Context; Part 2 Actualising the Vision; and Part 3 Visioning the Future. Together, the parts contain 13 chapters within which are distributed 25 separate essays by some 30 contributors and 60 ‘case studies’. Each chapter deals with a specific topic germane to sustainable healthcare architecture introduced by the authors with some extensive expositions.

The expository texts contain numerous diagrams, graphs, bar charts, tables, checklists and other highlights. The 60 case studies are illustrated with monochrome photographs and drawings, including about 40 small plans and sections. There is a section of colour plates with 48 examples of current healthcare facilities. The book is one inch thick and weighs 1.2 kilograms in a page format of nine by seven inches, which I find a pleasing change from A4.

In their endeavours to be comprehensive, the authors have compiled a book which may prove useful as a source of reference on many specific topics but is too long and dense to be easily readable. On the minus side, however, the so-called ‘case studies’ are of little use. The factual data given is not consistent and the descriptive texts are mostly sourced from the projects’ clients or architects.

Without adequate floor plans (the very few included are mostly too small to read), these features offer limited value for the reader. There were no objective evaluations or critical assessments in the case studies that I have read, but without examining all 60, I cannot say there were none. These are not case studies in the sense used and understood by serious professionals.

However, some readers may find these tasters sufficiently interesting as examples of either sustainability or healthcare architecture or both to be worth the effort of following up to find out more. Although the book may have some value as a reference source, its apparent intention to cover this huge field of knowledge is bound to be thwarted by the current pace of change.

Every day brings us new data about galloping climate change, developments in biomedicine and epidemiology, and the penetration of new IT into every human activity, as well as legislation, regulation and social change. But all of us in healthcare development need all the help we can get and Sustainable Healthcare Architecture, for all its weaknesses and faults, does appear to offer quite a lot.

Peter Scher is an architect, writer and consultant

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