technology, interior designers would still
be drawing documents with a quill pen. Instead,
they use computers to design workspaces for
people using wireless phones, laptop computers,
Per-sonal Digital Assistants (PDAs), desktop
videoconferencing, and the miles of cable
connecting it all. These workers move frequently
and take their "stuff" with them... maybe
quill pens were not so bad after all.
you consider these technological devices
are often used in an open office setting,
ergonomic and environmental factors become
important. Acoustics, cable management,
lighting, and angles of view play major
roles in the design of productive work areas
and presentation facilities.
designers are meeting these challenges with
open, flexible, and well-connected workspaces
that manage noise levels, promote productivity,
and help companies attract and retain the
best employees in today's tight labor market.
has also changed the way companies view
their marketing and sales strategies. "Today,
high-tech companies need different ways
to present their capabilities to customers,"
said Roseanne Bell, president of Benham Bellwether. "Even in traditional, low-tech companies,
multimedia presentations and interactive
displays are augmenting the sales effort."
new, technology-driven approach to sales
and marketing requires a different type
of space. Electronic media is artfully and
often invisibly integrated into the space
to create the all-important "Wow" response.
Benham Bellwether, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, specializes
in technology-intensive, high-visibility
spaces, such as executive briefing centers,
control centers, trading floors, and videoconference
rooms. The company also specializes in designing
workstation standards and planning large
changes in today's workplace are unprecedented,"
Bell said of twenty-first century office
environments. "Open offices and growing
technology requirements mean we spend a
great deal of time designing around sound
integration of technology into corporate
environments has created more than a few
challenges for interior designers. The most
notable are acoustics, cable management,
lighting, and ergonomics.
these areas of design change as rapidly
as the equipment, we can't give you solutions
to every situation," Bell said. The following
comments are intended to highlight the issues
involved and share a few examples of ways
to handle them.
Sounds Through Smart Designs
Noise levels and lack of privacy are the
most common complaints from people working
in open offices.
workstation panels can have some acoustic
value, it is not significant. Ceiling tiles
with a high noise reduction coefficient
(NRC), carpet with a cushion back, and sound
masking systems (electronic or natural,
such as water features) are guaranteed acoustic
partitions are a solution to the ever-changing
office landscape, but they don't offer the
acoustic qualities of gypsum board walls.
The modular, movable walls are usually frame
and panel systems that do not penetrate
the ceiling and floor. They lack the airtight
properties of a monolithic wall for better
acoustic control. Since sections of demountable
walls are often glass, further decreasing
the NRC, designers often find specifying
insulated glass or an air space between
two layers of glass creates an improved
possible, designers use fabric-wrapped accoustic
panels in demountable walls and lay a blanket
of sound batting over the top of the ceiling
to minimize sound transference.
is not uncommon for executive conference
rooms to have one or more window walls.
These glass surfaces combined with large
screens create a lively room. It is important
to compensate with ceiling, wall, and floor
materials of excellent acoustic properties.
window coverings, upholstered walls, and
acoustic ceiling panels are commonly used
to absorb sound frequencies. Interior designers
research and specify unusual finish materials,
such as glass, metal, and wood, to solve
acoustic problems. One company manufactures
perforated wood panels with acoustic properties
for use on ceilings, walls, and doors.
interior finish materials in unusual ways
can sometimes have surprising results. When
a 300-seat corporate theater was designed,
the acoustic consultant was specific regarding
the location of absorptive and reflective
aesthetic reasons, those involved wanted
both types of surfaces to look the same,
so the absorptive and reflective surfaces
were camouflaged with layers of stainless
steel over copper mesh. The audio/video
(A/V) consultant was happy because using
the metal camouflage inadvertently provided
radio frequency shielding, thus preventing
some stray radio waves from impinging on
the electronic equipment.
Benham Bellwether planned to use a similar treatment
in a control center. However, a potential
problem was discovered during discussions
with the information technology (IT) expert
in the planning sessions. The IT expert
said metal could interfere with signals
on wireless phones the staff planned to
use in the area.
the most absorption, and therefore signal
loss, occurs when a whole number of meshes
in the grill add up to the exact wave length
of a signal, Benham Bellwether is experimenting
with types of grill where the meshes are
of different size. The size or gauge of
the wire doesn't matter. For instance, chicken
wire can cause a 70 db loss, while rebar
lattice in concrete will not have a discernible
and building air pockets in the ceiling
is another way to control sound. For example,
designing gaps or spaces, either between
sections of ceiling grid or between sections
of floating FiberglasTM panels, will trap
the low frequency sounds traveling up into
the plenum above the grid.
lay-in lighting fixtures can transform 30
percent of the ceiling into a sound-reflective
surface. For example, pendant-mounted lighting
fixtures can be used to increase ceiling
The floor is another major design area affecting
noise levels. It is common knowledge that
carpet absorbs sound better than hard surface
flooring. For added sound absorption, lay
carpet over a pad with adhesive on both
sides for long-lasting placement. Cushion-backed
carpet tile is another popular flooring
solution because of its acoustic value and
flooring presents another acoustic challenge.
Because the metal panel-type flooring can
be noisy even with carpet tile over it,
apply insulation to the underside of the
"Today's workplaces must allow rapid movement
of people to facilitate constant communication
and teaming," said Ann Johnson, ASID, Benham Bellwether's
vice president. "Increasingly, less space
is being allocated for individual work processes
and more for group or team functions."
is the operative word for furniture today.
Walls are coming down, and space is opening
up to facilitate constant communication
and working in teams. Desks, filing systems,
chairs, and even furniture panels can be
specified on wheels. In frequently changing,
tech-nology-intensive workspaces, maintain-ing
access to power and data can be a challenge.
are specifying spines, hubs, and flexible
furniture systems to help companies manage
systems are "fat power poles," which carry
more cables than traditional power poles.
They can be fed from the floor or the ceiling
to supply a cluster of workstations. Hub
systems are commonly used in telemarketing
(or spline) walls take traditional panel
systems to the next level. Spine wallswhich
come in 1.2 m, 1.5 m, or 1.8 m (4 ft, 5
ft, or 6 ft) widths and in multiple heightsare
about 127 mm (5 in.) thick. Spines can carry
more cables than panel systems, and the
cable channels running along the outsides
of the structural elements allow cables
to be laid as bundles. The outsides are
then covered with easily removable skins.
The skins become functional when specified
as fabric, marker board, tack surface, or
and electrical outlets can be placed in
almost any position horizontally or vertically
on the spine wall, giving technicians access
to cables at any point along the spine.
Compared with traditional panel systems,
reconfiguring and moving cables in a spine
wall is less costly and time consuming.
panels acting as privacy screens between
people can be mobile or attached anywhere
along a spine. The flexibility of spines
and wing panels means the size of the workspace
is no longer determined by or dependent
on a panel module.
some types of spaces, even spine walls won't
accommodate heavy cabling requirements.
Technical consoles are made for such circumstances,
although most are not flexible enough to
survive rapid changes in equipment.
company has used trading desk manufacturers
to fill heavy equipment needs. For example,
a customized trading desk with large open
areas under the work surface accommodating
great quantities of cabling has been successfully
used in a control center. Access is easy
from both the front and rear.
approach to equipment-heavy work areas is
to take the equipment off of the desktop
and place it in its own cart or rack. This
approach minimizes clutter and maintains
clear sight lines to LCDs.
The ability to display information to a
group has become a vital component of corporate
environments. Conference rooms, data centers,
control centers, executive briefing centers,
and trading floors all require some kind
of information display. Each type of space
presents unique design challenges.
a recent project, a client requested that
all conference tables be mobile with built-in
power and data ports. To maintain mobility,
engineers were asked to specify jacks at
both endsone set in the table and
another set in a floor boxrather than
hardwiring them through the floor.
dual jacks produced the best flexible design
solution for the majority of tables, which
were lightweight plastic laminate tops on
metal bases with built-in power raceways
and wheels. To distinguish the corporate
divisions, granite-topped tables on heavy
metal bases were designed for the executive
areas. The bases were designed to accommodate
the power and data ports and to sit over
the floor boxes.
the connection was not hardwired, the electrical
inspection would not allow the company to
install the custom tables directly over
the floor boxes. To maintain accessibility
and protect the power cords from damage
during a move, the table bases were altered
to meet the inspector's requirements.
the tables were moved just enough to allow
access to the floor boxes. Then the designers
added spacers on the bottom of the disc-shaped
table bases to allow the power cords room
to exit the bases and plug into the floor
PowerPoint® has monopolized the world of
corporate presentations, requiring only
that a computer be connected to a large
screen monitor or to a projector mounted
on the ceiling or placed on a cart. However,
rear-screen projection, large gas-plasma
screens, and multi-image video walls are
quickly replacing the traditional presentation
consider the space's use before recommending
light sources and equipment. For example,
to adequately light a videoconference facility,
the illumination level at the participants
should be set somewhere between 75 and 100
footcandles. However, such light levels
hitting a screen will wash out all but the
brightest front-projection images because
the image is light reflected off the screen
surface. To keep the image bright, using
a rear-screen projection system less affected
by light levels in the room is recommended.
In general, rear projection avoids more
problems and provides sharper images than
When planning rooms with sophisticated A/V
components, the size and location of the
equipment room is critical. Place the equipment
room adjacent to the presentation room and
make the room larger than imagined necessary.
racks need access from both sides and often
require supplemental commercial air conditioning. Large,
rear-projection images require a longer
throw distance than small images and must
be placed several feet behind the screen.
During one company's recent executive briefing
center project, the client requested large
screens be installed. For videoconferences,
the client wanted the participants to appear
larger than life and for the audience in
the back of the room to read the text in
company decided to use an acrylic rear-projection
screen, available in sheets as large as
3 x 6 m (10 x 20 ft). Several sheets were
supposed to be butted together with no frame
between them. The screen wall was designed
to be 3.7 x 9 m (12 x 30 ft) in a 145 m2
(1,562 ft2) room.
during the planning stages, it was learned
that the acrylic screens would melt in a
fire and emit noxious gases. In fact, the
fire marshal's office said to limit the
screen material to 20 percent of the wall
surface. Rather than limiting the size of
the screen, the company is considering using
glass screens instead of acrylic ones. While
a glass screen solves the code issue, it
doubles the weight of the screen, thereby
requiring a different support structure.
Whenever large-screen displays are used,
sight lines become important. Perform a
sight-line study before designing all types
of multimedia rooms. To ensure everyone
is able to see and, in the case of videoconferencing,
be seen, multimedia solutions range from
wishbone-shaped tables to tiered flooring.
ergonomic consideration is the angle at
which the viewer sees the screen. For occasional,
short-term use, screens placed high on a
wall can work well. However, workers looking
at the screens for long periods should not
have to tilt their heads up to see the screen.
Screens mounted above 2 m (7 ft) high are
better viewed when tilted down at a 15-degree
Most of the projectors and monitors being
used today are either liquid crystal display
(LCD) or digital light processing (DLP).
They use significantly less power and generate
much less heat than the older cathode-ray
tube (CRT) projectors and monitors. The
costs to change 160 CRT monitors in a control
center to flat-screen LCDs were recently
compared. The cost savings in power alone
over a one-year period is $45,000; the flat-screen
LCDs reduce the required amount of air-conditioning
by more than one-third.
Data centers, control centers, and trading
floors are generally very secure areas.
Showcasing a secure area presents a set
of new issues. Should bullet resistant glass
be used? If so, which level is appropriate?
What about fire-suppression systems? And
what kind of information should be displayed
on large screens that can be seen by the
public? How is proprietary information handled?
Should visitors be allowed on the floor,
or is a secure viewing area needed?
of these questions were considered and the
design challenges were accepted when a bank
in El Salvador, proud of its data network,
wanted to design a data center containing
a small network operations center (NOC)
and an executive presentation room. The
data center and NOC are the backbone of
the bank's operations. Functionality was
of utmost importance. However, the bank's
executives wanted a data center that did
more than work well. A controlled area with
visual appeal to customers and aesthetic
appeal to employees was created.
continues to function as a sales tool in
executive briefing centers. The concept
behind an executive briefing center is to
deliver the company's message to high-level
executives in a memorable way. Designers
are often asked to create the "Wow" effect
in these spaces.
role of interior designers is much broader
than in the past. Together with architectural,
acoustic, A/V, and engineering consultants,
designers create spaces where people can
respond quickly and efficiently to the changing
needs of their workplace. And, with the
artful use of technology, interior designers
help businesses communicate their image
and message to customers in brilliant style.
Lauren Ingram is a writer at Communicating
Arts, a full-service marketing, creative,
design, and technology agency in Tulsa,
Oklahoma. Ingram can be reached via e-mail
at email@example.com. Benham Bellwether contributed to this article and can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Considering the current and constantly changing
technological aspects of office spacesfrom
wireless phones, laptops, Personal Digital
Assistants (PDAs), and desktop videoconferencing
units to the miles of cables connecting
it allergonomic and environmental
factors are becoming increasingly important
in the design of work facilities
1: Access Flooring- Not Just for Computers
by Jane D. Baker and Lauren Ingram
Flooring, 10270 as defined by MasterFormatTM,
includes a "free-standing, accessible floor
assembly of modular panels and elevated
support systems, forming an underlayment
cavity for mechanical and electrical services
decades ago a research visit to any company's
"state-of-the-art" equipment room would
take you into a stark room with an access
flooring system made of plastic laminate
or a metal floor replete with perforated
panels. Chilled air was required to cool
refrigerator-sized (and larger) computers
and their related equipment all in the functional
space. A short, steep ramp usually impinged
on the room's space or disturbed the traffic
flow in the outside corridor. People entered
these spaces to perform necessary tasks,
but I doubt many customers were impressed
or that deals were signed over the access
equipment rooms, data centers, and control
rooms showcase the heart of companies' operations.
Innovative designs mesh with next-generation
materials, making it difficult to tell you're
walking or working on access flooring. Although
unfilled, formed steel panels are still
available; acoustic and comfort criteria
frequently require designers to specify
lightweight concrete-filled steel pan panels.
Steel-covered wood panels, which offer increased
thermal performance, are another flooring
solution. Designers sometimes specify lighter
weight aluminum panels; however, the aluminum
does not provide optimum thermal performance.
the panel material, access flooring systems
offer varying levels of accessibility. A
stringerless system supports the floor with
only pedestals. Usually, the pedestals support
the corners of four panels, thus creating
a stable floor. When this is not structurally
sufficient, stringers, which tie pedestals
together, are addedsometimes across
two or three modules. As with all great
solutions, there are sacrifices. The additional
stringers occupy space, thereby compromising
the accessibility of the underfloor space.
The loads and user requirements are carefully
balanced to determine the most appropriate
access flooring system.
selection is not the end of the challengetoday's
designers and users are faced with a plethora
of floor finishes, ranging from exposed
metal to plush, cushioned carpet tiles.
Each option presents a new set of aesthetic
and performance characteristics to consider.
many building users are not proficient in
access-floor planning, one casino owner
devised a unique method to make his flooring
system truly accessible. Heavy gambling
machines were installed on the large casino's
access flooring. Machine regrouping or the
addition of new machines required major
moving of cables and wires. Rather than
removing panels and disturbing multiple
carpet tiles, an innovative owner attaches
the new cable or wire to a small remote-control
car and simply "drives" it to the new location.
This simple method of moving underfloor
accessories allows for lower pedestals and
provides more space to the human activities
above the floor.
technology-driven spaces, access flooring
must often be seamlessly integrated into
the facility design with conventional construction.
The transition from one structure to another
can cause unexpected problems. For example,
one executive briefing center that lacked
appropriate bracing where the access flooring
intersects with the regular flooring allowed
a 6.4 mm (1/4 in.) deflection, causing an
extremely heavy custom-door to slip out
of its pivot.
is not one "best" access flooring system.
Each presents different design and functional
problems that cannot be eliminated but can
be controlled with focused research.
code compliance is not optional and often
requires informed negotiations with jurisdictional
authorities, sometimes the only way to make
good decisions about systems and materials
is to experience them. For this reason,
designers should first narrow the system
selection to the ones presumed acceptable.
Then ask manufacturers to identify local
installations of the systems under consideration.
Often manufacturers have agreements with
owners to use successful spaces as showcase
pieces. Sometimes real-life solutions are
not available to view, but it can't hurt
the time spent researching the best and
most flexible solutions is always better
than surprising an owner with a springy
new access floor system or making a client
angry when the utility costs of a poorly
insulated access floor system are higher
D. Baker, FCSI, is an independent specifications
consultant and is a former president of
The Construction Specifications Institute.
Baker consults for clients and projects
throughout the United States from her Tulsa,
Oklahoma, based practice.
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