The Case for Modular Walls

The Case for Modular Walls

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Time appears to flying by so fast that it only seems like last month that I listened to another Steelcase Presentation about the “Open Office Design,” but in reality, it was sometime in the late 1990’s (about the time that I retired from actively writing Specs).  Much of what Jeffrey Beachy talked about and showed us in his slide presentation was slowly echoing in the back of my brain.  When you’ve been retired for over 16 years, time does that to you.  Everything is a BLUR.  When I was at still working at WBDC, and we designed both the Steelcase Headquarters at Eastern Ave. and 44th Street and the Steelcase Pyramid at 60th and East Paris, the “Open Office Design” was the new buzzword in Architectural circles.  Never mind that these circles were actually comprised of squares and rectangles.  Jeffrey reminded us that modular walls had very distinct advantages for everybody involved with construction including design professionals, general contractors, developers, and owners & tenants.  Designers like the idea because of the agility of design and construction as well as the larger share/control of front-loaded projects.  General contractors like the idea because it is easier to compress their schedules, have less dependency of several building trades, and expect fewer problems with site waste or clean-up.  Developers have the flexibility to accommodate changing tenants’ needs.  Owners and tenants can utilize custom spaces; accomplish change with minimal cost, time, or disruption.  Owners also like this idea because it includes tax benefits; components were portable and reusable; and lastly, there is single vendor simplicity.

 As time advances, so do the trends in construction.  In 2010, the average square foot allocated per person was 225 sq. ft. per person.  By 2017, that figure had dropped down to 150 sq. ft. per person.  In the near future, the space requirement will be reduced to 120 sq. ft. per person.  Some will say that this trend is totally due to the  millennials.  These individuals were brought up and raised in an atmosphere of ease and simplicity and the increased need for getting things in a faster time frame .  “I want it done and I want it done NOW!”  Today’s news travels around the globe almost at the speed of light whereas not more than 100 years ago, news traveled only as fast as the “Pony Express.”  Studies have indicated that 79% of companies think that innovation is their top priority and of that figure, 94% think that greater agility is critical for future success while only 6% consider themselves as highly agile.

 It has often been said that “Time is Money.”  Initial cost of modular walls typically cost more than conventional construction, but when you look at “Day 2” costs to change moidular walls are more cost effective. Most commonly it is assumed that conventional constructions costs an average of about $100/LF while modular construction can cost an average of $300 to $1000/LF. In a typical remodel project it takes on average as many as 25 days to construct conventional walls, install the electrical and mechanical, and finally move back the people.  With modular construction, the actual time frame is compressed nearly 50% and people are moved back (and into production more quickly) saving the cost of “down time.”  These cost savings are often greater than 50% of the total remodeling cost. Modularity includes walls, work stations, electrical, lighting, and HVAC and done under the “furniture” contract.  Multiple layouts can be achieved with a single kit of parts.  Office managers like the idea of utilizing fast, efficient, and adaptable modular units.  They can actually anticipate specific changes instead of resisting them.  Office layouts can be made into several types of zones.  These zones can be adapted to the usability needs of the particular business involved. The “social” zone can be located near the “resource” zone or the “meeting” zone.  If a company has offices in several cities, each location can adapt  these zones to maximize their needs.  The “nomadic” zone can accommodate staff personnel who must travel from city to city while the “resident” zone can concentrate on keeping the “locals” together.

 More and more of the newer modular construction is converting to glass as a replacement for drywall.  This opens all spaces visually and improves access to natural light.  This added openness encourages collaboration between employees and balances privacy.  If more privacy is required within this openness, there is a newer type of smart glass (or switchable glass) available that contains suspended rod-like Nano-scaled particle devices (SPD’s) that can either open or block the light  passing through the glass.  When voltage is applied to the film, the particles align and allow light to pass through.  When voltage is turned off, the suspended particles become randomly organized to block and absorb the light.  

 The bar was sponsored by the Chapter.  The following CSI members and guests made reservations to attend the presentation:

Charlie Appleby MWA Firestone
Ed Avink Progressive AE
Jeffrey Beachy (Presenter) Steelcase Corp.
Gary Beimers GB Consulting
Dale Cammenga Progressive AE
Pat Corderman Rockford Construction
Tom Dawson Progressive AE
Wolfgang Dittmer Guest of MWA
Ron Duimstra FTCH
Stan Elenbaas Erhardt Construction
John Fick Progressive AE
Tom Gorman S.A. Mormon
Brandon Hartwick Progressive AE
Jim Hojnacki (Emeritus) MI Adjunct – AK. Earthquake  Info Center
Gary Johnson Tower Pinkster
Gregg Jones C2AE
Mark Kahill Progressive AE
Sam Massie Steelcase Corp.
Randy Meulenberg Eisen Group
David Roodvoets DLR Consulting
Adam Rottschafer Monsma Marketing
David Trudell Trudell Architectural Consulting

Author: Jim Hojnacki

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