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How to Choose a Modular Wall System | Jefferson Group

Flexible Modular Wall Options

Today’s office workspace needs flexibility and versatility, as the office has become less of a place to go every day and more of a destination for collaboration and team building. As you are re-designing the office into a new ‘collaboration hub’, it’s essential to understand how your employees will use the new space. It’s common to start with an open floor plan and imagine the area as a large lounge or coffee shop. Unfortunately, this environment leaves out something that people desperately crave – privacy. Individuals focusing on a project need private spaces to escape a noisy open-plan environment, and larger groups need privacy when meeting and collaborating without disturbing others. Private spaces also offer respite for employee wellness. Therefore, even the most upscale open-space office will still need some walls.

When we moved to the open office concept years ago, it created some problems, including a lack of space variety. We want employees to do their best work, so give them the choice of areas suitable for their type of work. With control over how and choice over where they work, employees will have higher satisfaction, wellbeing, and engagement at work. To provide them with choice, create neighborhoods and zones, and the best way to do this is with demountable walls. Open, collaborative zones, private, quiet areas, and social areas combine to create the optimal work environment. Keep your space adaptable as there is constant change, and what works today might not work in a few years. The more flexible your environment, the better it will adapt, and the happier your employees will be.

Architectural Walls 

Architectural walls provide aesthetically pleasing and cost-effective advantages over traditional construction. Architectural, or demountable, walls are wall systems that can be unmounted, relocated, and reinstalled at a new location. Demountable walls are especially preferred if you are looking for a wide array of design options and quick installations.

Demountable walls can be glass walls, solid partitions, or a combination of both. When designing an office, it’s essential to realize that different types of walls can significantly impact the long-term bottom line. Therefore, it is necessary to make an educated comparison of price, flexibility, and acoustical privacy. For example, demountable walls offer better acoustics than panels, partitions, cubicles, and curtains to keep conversations private. In addition, when you add film to the glass or use solid panels, you can create a visual barrier that keeps workers focused.

Why demountable walls over traditional drywall construction?

At first glance, demountable walls are cost-prohibitive over traditional construction. However, contrary to how it initially appears, these wall systems can be very cost-competitive to traditional construction. Therefore, when comparing costs, ensure it’s an apple to apple comparison. Things to consider are:

  • Is the configuration of the wall the same? (i.e.) amount and location of the glass, electric, and doorways.
  • Are the specified door types the same?
  • Was the cost and time to cut the ceiling and carpet around walls with traditional construction considered?
  • Were the coordination, management, and inevitable time delays of electricians, painters, carpenters, drywallers, and finishers included?
  • As the dealer usually installs a demountable system, the project time is shorter. 
  • Are all the power and finish items, including outlets, switches, paint, and hardware, considered in the comparison?
  • Was the disruption impact, as well as the post-installation clean-up included in the comparison?
  • Typically traditional construction projects are twice as long as a demountable wall project.

If all of the above is equal, there is one additional factor to consider – will the office ever be relocated, or will the floor layout change in the future? Again, if the answer is yes, demountable walls have a huge advantage, as 90 to 100% is reusable in another installation. 

Sustainable and Environmentally Friendly Walls

Whether your interests are in LEED certification or you simply care about your environmental footprint, demountable walls are the way to go. First, their construction includes recycled, low-emitting materials, eliminating harmful things like PVCs, VOCs, and off-gassing. Second, demountable walls are 100% reusable, and when they reach the end of their long and useful lives, they can be recycled, avoiding the landfill. Lastly, installing or reconfiguring demountable walls is minimally disruptive to your employees, with no dust, dirt, or mess – often with no trace of their prior layout and location!

Movable Wall Systems

While a movable wall is sometimes just another name for a demountable wall, it typically refers to a fixed partition or divider that splits a room into two and can be easily movable to open up the space. A Movable Wall System is a collection of panels that collapse like an accordion to fit in the sidewall or ceiling when opening the space. Typically these are used to divide large conference rooms into two smaller rooms. 

Although Movable Wall Systems are often integrated into the fixed construction of an office and are not easily transportable, we include them under the flexible walls category. With a Movable Wall System, the office adapts to the daily space needs of the office with a large conference room when opened or two smaller conference rooms when closed. An advantage of these walls is that the panels are very effective acoustic barriers. However, if space separation is all that is needed, a floor-to-ceiling curtain may be sufficient.

Case Study: Manual Conference Room Wall System

This manual panel system slides horizontally into the side wall to open the conference area to the workfloor. The panels are acoustically optimized and consist of a whiteboard insert in the center of each panel.

Two identical conference rooms with glass walls are divided by a solid, white panel movable wall.  The white panel wall will retract upwards into the ceiling, opening and connecting the two conference rooms together.  The conference tables are designed to slide together when the wall is raised, creating a large board room.

Flexible Soft Architecture

While Flexible Soft Architecture is not necessarily a modular wall system, they do provide flexible spaces to define areas of activity.  There are some advantages to Flexible Soft Archtecture, as opposed to demountable walls, as well that make it a very attractive option to modular walls.

Every business continues to change over time. While you may need six huddle rooms today, in the future, you may want to combine two rooms to make a more prominent team studio or even divide some spaces to create smaller phone booths. Instead of investing in expensive remodels that are single-use and may need to change in a couple of years, invest in soft architecture. Soft Architecture is a room-within-a-room. Because of soft architecture’s ability to be installed where you need them when you need them, they are a one-time purchase but will give you endless options for their use.

Soft architecture creates rooms without putting up permanent barriers, so spaces can remain fluid and nimble, continuously appropriating themselves to organizational, and more importantly, human needs. Soft architecture consists of posts, walls, and roofing panels, which combine to create free-standing structures from a single-person pod to a large group setting.

Obeya Soft Architecture by OFS

Example of a Modular Meeting Room Parts Kit from OFS

OFS Obeya Soft Architecture

Soft Architecture projects, such as a modular meeting room, are faster than traditional construction as most components are manufactured off-site. As a result, they only need to be assembled on-site, usually over a weekend.

Collaboration is important, but so is privacy. Optimize soft architecture with walls and roofs for acoustic performance helps to reduce office noise and promotes a more peaceful working environment. 

Verandas from SpaceStor

Soft Architecture is exceptionally high-quality due to its versatility. In fact, since the purpose is to adapt with little or no issues, and needs to align with multiple extensions, additions, and through several relocations, they are built for stability and long-term use.  Spacestor’s Verandas Modular Meeting Room is an architectural room system that is more than just a meeting room.  The design enables reconfiguration in days not weeks.  The concept of Verandas is a kit of parts and every single element is reusable. From a single work pod to a full-size meeting room for 12 people, it can all be built from Verandas parts. In addition to reconfigured rooms, Verandas also utilizes the external walls with addition architecture and accessories for casual settings like scrum spaces, touchdown zones and even storage areas.

In certain areas, furniture is tax-deductible, where ‘fit-out’ is subject to more extended depreciation. However, soft architecture is often a ‘furniture’ item, so there may be significant tax benefits to selecting it versus traditional construction.

Demountable Walls versus Soft Architecture

A difference between demountable walls and soft architecture is that soft architecture is free-standing and does not touch the ceiling deck. It also does not have to be mounted into the flooring, so the impact on the building is truly negligible. With demountable walls, we have to be concerned about lighting, HVAC, egress, sprinklers, the path of travel for an emergency exit for the rest of the building. Since the soft architecture does not touch the ceiling decks, there is no need for permits or architects.

The Covid pandemic imposed new ways of working, and we found that workplace specialists need innovative, creative, and adaptable workspaces that support a healthier workplace. Of course, we can still only guess how office design will change going forward, but the most important lesson is that adaptability is even more crucial than ever. Our workspaces need to be ready for anything. Let us help design your new adaptable workplace.