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Walls, ceilings & partitions: Get things out in the open

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As walls, ceilings and partitions are usually specified for relatively short-term fit-out projects, it’s essential to keep an eye on current trends, says Felix Mara

Contemporary work and learning environments are not for the agoraphobic or the introverted.

For many of us, cellular workplaces are a distant memory and it’s hard to understand why certain groups - for example, academics - decline to come to the party. Add to this the diminished use of suspended ceilings, superseded by raw concrete soffits, exposed services, ceiling rafts and generous headroom and you have an environment past generations would find unrecognisable. So designing walls, ceilings and partitions involves fast-moving targets and new answers to old questions.

OfficePOD, for example, is a self contained office. Much easier to relocate than conventional partitioning, it does not interfere with the sense that you are in a large volume with loose furniture - in the broadest sense of the word. It has high sound insulation levels and has been used by the BBC as a live radio broadcast facility in a public reception, and for consultation rooms in London’s Whittington Hospital.

All components can be carried to areas with poor access, and installation is quick and straightforward. Main elements have a minimum life of 25 years and can be repeatedly dismantled and re-used. Many customisation options are also available.




Even when more enclosed spaces are desired, glass walls providing visual continuity are now more viable. Corstorphine & Wright recently specified 700m of System 8000 fully glazed partitioning, supplied by partition and ceiling specialist SAS International, for Derby Council’s refurbished and extended main administrative and community building. This is single glazed at the atrium perimeter, with ±15mm deflection heads and 15.5mm heat-strengthened acoustic laminate glass.

More than 35 glass-doored internal meeting pods were also specified, using System 8000 single glazing with 12.8mm acoustic laminate glass to achieve required privacy levels. SAS International also supplied 30/30 and 60/60 fire-rated steel screens.

Partitioning: Frameless glazing checklist

What performance standards need to be met?Approved Doc B sets out Fire Performance requirements; BS 5234 defines strength and stability; Approved Doc M sets outdoor access and manifestations
Consider the full range of systems available on the marketOver the past year a range of new systems have been launched that offer specifiers greater design options
Has the building slab deflection been determined?Deflection heads, up to +/-25mm, enable glass partitioning to work with live and dead load slab movement
Consider the long-term use of the partitioning system. Will it be moved and reused by the client?Deflection heads can also be used as tolerance heads enabling the partitioning and glass to be relocated by the client at a later date. Relocatable partitioning also qualifies for
Capital Investment tax allowances
Establish the differing acoustic requirements across the project?A range of system widths and glass types can provide a range of acoustic attenuation levels. Mixing glass widths in double glazed partitioning increases the dB performance
What manifestation design will be used?They are applied post installation. Doc M requires a minimum of 50mm squares or circles however bespoke patterns and colours can interpret the project design intent
Is specialist clear or privacy glass required?Subject to budgets ultra-clear colourless, low iron glass and electronically controlled privacy glass can be specified
Consider how the partitioning will integrate with solid wallsTraditionally wall abutments are used to finish the glass however a range of glass pocket adaptors enable drywall and glass to flow seamlessly
Involve the manufacturer within the design processUse the manufacturers’ expertise and guidance on design proposals, they can interpret the intent and provide cost effective solutions
Consider the performance of integrating doorsA range of doors are available, they need to be tested as part of the system to ensure performance compliance
Decide between aesthetics or performance of glass doorsFrameless or sliding glass doors may meet the design intent however they can reduce acoustic performance
Consider using a non-silicone glass jointNot only are they more environmentally friendly, a range of concealed dry joints esthetically look neater, speed up installation time and provide future relocatability
Ensure the systems meet the correct structural
stability demands
Office partitioning must meet the duty requirements of BS 5234 however any atrium glazing has to comply with Approved Doc K
Consider frameless glazed fire screens instead of solid systems to allow natural light to flow through the buildingDry-jointed frameless glazed systems can be specified with performance up to 60 / 60 (integrity and insulation)

supplied by SAS International

Whether you’re designing partitions or studying them as part of a CPD programme, you could do worse than download the Association of Interior Specialists’ new Best Practice Guide: Installation of Partitioning. AIS is the leading trade association for the interiors fit-out sector and this publication complements its guides on installing suspended ceilings, and selecting and installing top fittings for them. Covering all partitioning systems up to a height of 3.6m, it is not intended as a definitive technical manual, since manufacturers’ recommendations must always be followed, but as a guide to best practice for the construction team. In observing that growing demand for SAS International’s fully glazed partitioning is partly driven by the popularity of open, transparent working environments, marketing manager Malcolm Stamper says this guide will facilitate their installation.

Partitioning stability is gained from the partition layout and should not add any loading to the ceiling

The guide examines the various partition types and discusses partition design principles, starting with bracing. ‘It can be acceptable to install non-loadbearing mid-weight partitioning to the underside of a suspended ceiling’, the guide notes, ‘provided that the fixing is directly into the ceiling grid main tee/framework, and the performance of the partition is maintained in the ceiling void by installing fire and acoustic barriers where necessary, and the installation is strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and test certification.’

Partitioning stability is gained from the partition layout and should not add any loading to the ceiling. The ceiling grid main tee/framework, to which the top track of the partition is fixed, should be considered as providing location only. Bracing is especially necessary above full-height frameless glass doors where they are held by pivot pins. Where bracing is installed, any need to accommodate deflection should be designed in.

Partition types covered by AIS’ Best Practice Guide: Installation of Partitioning

Partition system typeSub-type or component
ScreensDesk-mounted screens, floor-standing screens, cable-managed screens, office pod screens, stacking screens
Composite systemsSolid modules, glazed modules
Stud and board systemsSolid modules, glazed modules
Frameless glass partitionsSilicone jointed, dry jointed
Timber systemsVeneered MDF systems; timber-only systems; timber junctions
Bi-panel systemsSteel-faced plasterboard; veneered, painted and laminated MDF panels; glazed panels
Monobloc systemsMonobloc systems, steel panel systems, cleanroom systems for standard dimensions
Operable wallsMoveable walls, folding walls, vertically rising folding walls, folding screens
Storage wallPart of wider partitioning system, free-standing back to back, single standing
Working wallWall-to-wall cladding fitted to drywall, propietary partition or solid wall, partition wall - combines furniture and partitioning
Washroom systemsToilet cubicles, integrated plumbing systems, vanity units


In line with the fashion for exposed soffits, architects such as Arup Associates, working at Coventry University’s new Faculty of Engineering and Computing, are exploring the sculptural potential of acoustic ceiling panels, which absorb sound, carry lighting and other services, and add colour as well as visual interest. But suspended ceilings still have a role, especially if overhead services are complex or could undermine an architect’s desire for a minimalist aesthetic. Like floor finishes, suspended ceilings can have a big impact on a project’s environmental profile so architects may have to do some homework.

Suspended ceilings can have a big impact on a project’s environmental profile so architects may have to do some homework

SAS International recently became the first ceiling manufacturer to produce Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for its full range of suspended ceiling systems that are in accordance with the latest ISO 14025 Product Category Rule for construction products, BS EN 15804. Fifteen individual EPDs cover more than 145 grid and acoustic backing options. The company assessed the entire life cycle, including raw materials, transport to factory, manufacturing and delivery to multiple global sites. These EPDs were completed by Atkins’ Life Cycle Assessment team, which visited the factory and compiled data collected by SAS International to produce comprehensive declarations.

SAS International’s metal ceilings meet SKA Offices and Retail good-practice measures for suspended ceilings. Its products also meet SKA Offices 2011 and SKA Retail 2012 standards for partitions, glazed partitions, suspended ceilings and doors.

Phillips and Ecophon Saint-Gobain have joined forces to find ways to use innovative lighting and acoustic design to improve workplace productivity - the subject of a roundtable discussion published in The Architects’ Journal last November. Designed to enhance wellbeing and boost concentration in open-plan offices, Soundlight Comfort Ceiling combines optimum acoustic performance with the latest developments in lighting technology, marrying Ecophon Class A sound absorbing suspended ceilings with Phillips embedded LED lighting. Result: complete acoustic coverage and uniform appearance, as well as optimum noise and lighting levels. Hitting noise and light level targets in office environments is essential for comfortable workplaces but presents challenges in open-plan offices. Background noise can be very distracting, affecting concentration, while poor lighting can lead to tiredness.

Phillips and Saint-Gobain Soundlight Comfort ceiling

Phillips and Saint-Gobain Soundlight Comfort ceiling

Soundlight Comfort Ceiling’s sound absorption ensures speech clarity over short distances and reduces total sound-travel distances - a key benefit, given that over half of office work still requires individual focus and concentration. Adjustable sensors and controls regulate lighting levels depending on daylight and occupancy, helping to reduce energy consumption.


If you’re interested in blobby forms with hardwearing, non-porous materials, have a coup d’oeil at what architects Marc Fidelle and Andrei David of Paris Airport Engineering and Architectural Management have done at Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2F’s new entrance hall. Working closely with furniture manufacturer LCCA, they specified LG Hausys Alpine White HI-MACS acrylic stone for its voluptuous monolithic pillars. These model the space and contain networks and air conditioning. HI-MACS comprises 70 per cent natural stone powder derived from bauxite, 25 per cent high-quality acrylic resin and 5 per cent natural pigments.

AR Design Studio’s retrofit of a stables block at Manor House Headbourne Worthy as a family home

AR Design Studio’s retrofit of a stables block at Manor House Headbourne Worthy as a family home

For a more traditional aesthetic, retrofitters might choose to salvage what’s already there. AR Design Studio’s reworking of the stables block at Manor House in Headbourne Worthy, near Winchester, as a family home retains its existing walls, which were originally covered in a thick tar pitch. ‘We sandblasted them back down to the original wood, revealing the hoof dents from stall kicking’, says Part I architectural assistant Andrew Badley, who speculates that they could be those of former resident and 1946 Grand National winner Lovely Cottage.

Of course, you might decide to kill two birds with one stone and combine storage with walling - in which cased Jean Nouvel and mailbox specialist DAD might have just the thing for you: the Transcript aluminium-faced mailbox system. Companies’ or individual’s names can be displayed on the doors using a track system like those typesetters used to slide letters into a composing stick. With its minimal joints it looks monolithic and comes complete with corners, baseboards, cornices and, if required, lighting, switches and bins. Don’t worry, DAD assures us, letters can be delivered in just a few days. We’re all replaceable.

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