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Theme: ceilings, partitions and raised floors

The changing face of technology, businesses and the economic climate in which they operate are all helping to reshape our working environments, leading to a major rethink of office space and the traditional components that comprise it 'Architecture is about creating space'. That may be true, but it is the bounding elements of that space - partitions, floors and ceilings - that keep designers busy. Office design is going through a process of change and this is having a significant impact on the major components that have traditionally formed the immediate environment of office space.

Factors for change Technology is advancing apace. As it increases in complexity, the requirement for accessibility is greater than ever. Video and audio conferencing, 'woffices' (offices that facilitate onlocation filming) and the need for robust IT disaster-recovery systems all highlight the need for rapid, easy and non-disruptive access to cable routes and junctions. Some major occupiers have introduced wireless systems, although the technology is still in its infancy.

Legislation, coupled with a drive towards more environmentally sustainable solutions, is having an impact, and is helping to give both occupiers and designers a greater awareness of the environmental agenda. The desire to reduce maintenance and running costs has resulted in the need to consider alternatives to the traditional air-handling systems hidden behind glossy metal ceilings.

Alternatives such as natural ventilation, mixed-mode solutions and chilled beams are becoming more commonplace. The CIBSE code for Interior Lighting and Lighting Guide 3 (LG3) have an impact on the lighting of office space, which in turn affects the design of the ceilings themselves.

Businesses are changing. Global competition has resulted in a need for efficiency that develops new cultures from traditional organisational structures. This has an impact on how we design the layout of space.

The desire for less hierarchy and more flexibility has resulted in much more use of open-plan space, partial-height partitions and increasing use of glazing to provide acoustic control without a visual barrier.

The current economic climate is making companies challenge the need for new office buildings when refurbishments and restacks may suffice, making use of the latest technologies to create effective working environments in existing structures.

These factors combine to affect how we design office space. The design and layout of desks, the need for cable management and the constant challenging of existing office standards are forcing architects and designers to demand more from both products and manufacturers. Almost everything is now required to be demountable, accessible and flexible. Nowhere is this more true than in the ever-evolving, high-specification commercial interiors market. How should the designer achieve workability without compromising a stunning visual design?

Bennett Interior Design has for the past six years worked with many different occupiers. On the following pages we discuss these topics in more detail, using case studies and examples to illustrate how we have navigated our designs towards well thought-out and workable solutions while maintaining their integrity.

Julian Sharpe and Padraic Burke are with Bennett Interior Design

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