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Get Movin'

Contract Magazine | April 2008

Alternatives to plain old drywall are altering the way office interiors look and function

By Danine Alati

While the term "movable walls" may sound like a bit of an oxymoron, this interior product category continues to expand, offering significant cost savings, environmental benefits, and flexibility when compared to its fixed wall counterpart. With the churn rate of most offices being anywhere from 25 to 50 percent for one year, movable walls provide a cost effective, adaptable option for maximizing workspace. Furthermore, reconfiguration of movable walls is simpler, causes less disruption to workers, and does not have the negative health ramifications of, say, constructing a new private office made of drywall. And while a movable wall system has a higher upfront cost than drywall, it becomes a more profitable solution in the long run by incurring less cost in maintenance and reconfiguration. 

Green is a factor in all realms of interiors, and movable walls are no exception. Newer products are being constructed of more renewable resources, made of more recyclable or reusable components, and with more glass that allows for daylight penetration - all factors that can contribute to the LEED points of a project. KI's Genius Walls product, for instance, is GREENGUARD certified and is 99 percent reusable, 96 percent recyclable, and made with more than 70 percent of recycled aluminum components, which offer significant contributions to LEED points. 

Besides their environmental benefits, movable walls also provide viable aesthetic solutions with increasingly more interesting options of materials, veneers, colors, lacquers, and etched or sandblasted glass accents. These products offer designers and specifiers the option of creating environments with high-level standard finishes. Extensive use of glass incorporated in movable walls fosters that visual connection and light penetration that's crucial in so many offices, while delineating space for a sense of privacy. Italian manufacturer Citterio, for example, has developed a new all-glass partition system with no structural upright to create the optimal amount of transparency, while the double glass construction takes acoustical needs into account. 

Wood panels in movable walls absorb more sound (from 38 to 44 decibels), depending on the type of sound isolation material used, while glass absorbs slightly less (32 to 40 decibels), depending on the type of glass, number of panes, and dimension between glass layers. And while acoustics remains a critical consideration with these products, the issue can be redressed with better integration between the wall and ceiling planes and by installing high-performance ceiling tile and carpeting. 

Overall, we're seeing fewer plain vanilla vertical surfaces in office interiors and more interesting options for movable walls. Integration of working walls, marker boards, tack boards, sliding doors, and electrical components within these systems, coupled with improved green materials, make movable walls high-performance solutions to alter the landscape of the office of the future.

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