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My doors are always open

The Revolving Door since 1881 By Alan Beardmore, Boon Edam, Holland, 2000

This is a labour of love: a lifetime's work.

And that is just reading it.

The Revolving Door since 1881 presents its history in tiny font over 517 pages, and includes extensive historical diagrams, photographs and manufacturers' advertising data. However, it is not just for arcuate wall fetishists. The inventiveness and variability in design, the methods and technicalities of collapsibility (which apparently became an issue after the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston in 1942), the pressure balancing and the combinations of door layouts are strangely fascinating.Any book summing up this amount of knowledge on any given subject is only to be respected.

I remember reading the late John Morgan, editor of Debrett's Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners, saying that the only occasion when it is acceptable for a man to pass through a door before a woman is when it is a revolving door. This is to ensure that he takes the strain of pushing the door wing rather than 'the lady'. The logic of this etiquette is that, before he can actually enter the building, 'the man', has to perform one-and-a-half turns - to ensure that a woman does not have to exert herself by pushing at all!

Unfortunately, there is little light relief like this in this heavy tome (the comical news that the BBC has introduced guidelines on how to use a revolving door came too late). A more leisurely assessment of revolving doors within the context of the social and political environment - rather than just the context of the building industry or individual manufacturers - would also have made this book more accessible.

Beardmore does note briefly that the industrial dynamism of the mid nineteenth century, which gave rise to major shipping concerns, banking, department stores and financial centres, created the circumstances which allowed 'highly skilled artisans and artificers to interpret the increasingly opulent demands of the large business concerns'. The skill and ornament of these craftsmen, which 'created an important joinery subculture by 1900', is shown to good advantage in the demanding geometries and finish required by these early booming business ventures. After this early dynamic, the end of reparation work to war-damaged property, followed by the decline in ocean liner and church fit-outs, meant that revolving door joinery specialism went into decline by the 1960s. This book examines most of the survivors.

The photographs are not professional (and Beardmore has a knack of photographing his own reflection), although they convey the workmanship and beauty of many doors throughout the world. The pride in the door itself, as an entrance to the corporate world, is self-evident in the lavish ornament and exuberant publicity shots of the first half of the twentieth century. In the later shots, the revolving door seems reduced to a functional device.

The bulk of the book is taken up with masses of detail drawings, annotated to the nth degree, although the density of the notes makes it difficult to plough through.

Making more concise notes and separating them from the author's comments and observations would have been beneficial.

However, if you stick with it, there are a lot of technical and visual rewards.

The Revolving Door since 1881, price £70 excluding post and packaging, is available directly from Boon Edam, tel 00 31 299 380808, fax 00 31 299 372 859. It can also be ordered through the RIBA Bookshop

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