Spatial separation in offices – Interior walling options

by Darren
Spatial separation in offices

Interior walling is an important consideration when designing office layouts and there is a myriad of materials to choose from.

Offices today are designed to make the most of the available space; therefore interior walling is an important consideration when designing office building layouts. Whether opting for open-plan or enclosed offices, there is a myriad of solutions to create work environments that are conducive to employee well-being and productivity.

“Interior walling is an essential and ever-present element in any office or commercial environment,” comments Andre Steynberg from Cecilia Architects. “Apart from immediately providing privacy to occupants, interior walling these days has an unending list of technical and aesthetic options.

“Technical options may include closing off an area prone to noise or protecting staff by installing a fire-rated system to a hazardous area such as a server room. Aesthetic options may include adding bright wallpaper to an otherwise dull boardroom or a chalkboard paint finish for a more interactive surface,” he explains.

According to Casper Steenkamp, managing director at Office Objects, the most popular office designs remain to be open-plan, with clients looking for flexible and lightweight solutions. “Any walling that you can take down without breaking it down is 100% tax-deductible, something our clients are often not aware of,” he points out.

Aluglass Bautech’s Petunia Mpoza agrees: “A modern design is only successful if the distribution of the surface space is done right, and offices increasingly require flexible and efficient space utilisation. There is a demand for intelligent solutions that enable a multifunctional yet open-plan spatial configuration,” she says.

“Today one gets partition systems that harmoniously combine transparent, movable and sound-insulating room concepts. With these systems it is possible to modify room sizes with ease, flexibility and speed, and thus adapt them to different occupant group sizes. Accordingly, floor plans become multifunctional and more spatially efficient.”

The importance of acoustics
“Acoustics is an integral factor of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and it is essential that surfaces, finishes and plasterboard systems should be selected to enhance the functionality of any space relative to its design usage,” says Sese Matlapeng, marketing manager at Lafarge Gypsum.

“In commercial environments, noise intelligibility as well as speech privacy is of obvious concern, where acoustical wall treatment systems can have a significant effect on noise level and reverberation, as well as the sound intrusion within these spaces.”

Acoustics, however, has been misunderstood for years and specification can be quite tricky. Look out for more on understanding acoustics in the upcoming issues of WALLS & ROOFS.

Mpoza adds that acoustic partition systems are ideal to create quiet office spaces within open-plan applications, while absorption wall and ceiling mounted panels can reduce unwanted reflections and echoes with noise reduction coefficients (NRSc) ranging from 0,5 to 0,85, depending on the panel thickness and material finish.

Materials used for interior walling
When selecting materials for interior walling, Steynberg says that architects and interior designers look for tough, scratch-resistant surfaces that are easy to clean, such as glass, face brick, timber or stainless steel, and if damaged, could be easily repaired without inconveniencing staff, such as wallpaper and plain painted drywall.

“Anything that is overly fragile or might be a mess to repair should be avoided,” he emphasises. “Commercial environments are hard-wearing on materials and finishes, and to repair or carry out maintenance on damaged areas can be a logistical nightmare.”

Dry construction systems
According to Amanda Nortje, product manager at Marley Building Systems, dry construction and light steel wall systems are able to address specific design criteria. Depending on the thermal and acoustical properties required, dry construction systems can be adapted to cater for different needs.

“Dry construction systems are safe and low-maintenance structures that enable design flexibility, since alterations or additions are non-disruptive and economical. Costing is predictable and no lifting equipment, heavy machinery or bulk materials are needed on site,” she points out.

“In addition, no toxic chemicals are used to manufacture fibre-cement boards or to treat steel, and wastage is minimal, since almost all cutting and sizing can be done in-factory by automated machinery. Any waste steel can also be recycled.”

Drywall systems
“Drywalls provide endless possibilities due to their flexibility and ease in creating and dividing spaces, and architects are continually experimenting with shapes and sizes to make drywalls far more interesting than ever before,” Rodney Gould from Pelican Systems states.

“Also, since it is lightweight, the dead load of the structure is reduced, which is an engineer’s dream.

“Drywalls offer sound insulation, are energy efficient and eco-friendly,” he adds. “They have a low thermal conductivity (K-value) and high thermal resistance (R-value) that helps to bring down the electrical consumption of a building and reduce the load on air-conditioning units. And the cavity can be used to contain services.”

According to Gould, high-impact resistance drywalls are currently gaining popularity for residential and commercial developments, where fibre-cement boards are used.

Fire ratings
Pelican Systems’ Richard Fenton points out that fire-rated drywalls are tested and approved for up to two hours. “Access in fire walls through doors and frames is available now without compromising the fire rating, meaning that the door and frame can be purchased with the identical rating having been tested in the wall,” he highlights.

“Using fire-resistant, gypsum-based plasterboard systems in office buildings goes a long way to reduce the impact of fire disasters,” adds Matlapeng. “Gypsum plasterboard core, which contains fibreglass and exfoliated vermiculite that has high resistance to combustion, increases fire resistance and gives occupants enough time to evacuate to safety. However, it is important to select walls systems that have been tested using methods prescribed in SANS:10177 Part II for 30, 60 and 120 minutes fire resistance.”

Plasterboard systems
Locally, according to Matlapeng, the use of gypsum-based plasterboard systems is increasing with a focus on developing products to achieve specific needs based on the space occupied. “People spend much of their time in office environments; therefore the focus is on developing plasterboard systems that improve the indoor environment,” she stresses.

“Gypsum-based plasterboard systems contribute to the improvement of energy efficiency within spaces, and gypsum as a stand-alone thermal insulation material is further enhanced using insulation to achieve a desired result, a plus when the SANS 10400:XA requirements are considered. These systems have the added benefits that they cater for sound, fire and thermal resistance as a complete solution.”

One of the latest innovations, a new high-strength wall plasterboard system featuring high-impact resistance and fixing capability, now also addresses the challenge of hanging heavy objects. According to Kerry Henning, marketing services manager at Saint-Gobain Gyproc, this revolutionary plasterboard wall system combines the thermal and acoustic benefits of plasterboard with the strength and durability of brick.

“Plasterboard is known for its superior thermal and acoustic properties, and is used extensively in office environments to deliver higher levels of comfort and flexibility. This new high-strength system now delivers these benefits with the added freedom to fix shelves, whiteboards and screens in place without the need for specialist drilling or fixing,” she says.

Letting the light in
“South Africa is blessed with sunny skies and mostly moderate climates, so using natural light is a cost-effective way to improve indoor environmental quality without relying solely on conventional lighting methods,” highlights Tyrone Blommestijn, business manager at Perspex.

Glass walls and partitions
For this reason, according to Fenton, the use of glass for interior walling and partitioning has become increasingly popular in commercial applications, either on its own or in conjunction with other systems.

“We are seeing clear glass with blinds as a feature, as well as designs and patterns printed or sandblasted onto glass. Using alternating glass and white panels of drywall with polished dark wood veneer doors makes for a really striking contrast, while combining glass with exposed aluminium and steel can create an industrial feel,” he explains.

Using glass blocks is another option to let through some extra natural light. According to Mpoza, specific glass bricks can guarantee thermal insulation levels superior to those of conventional walls of equal thickness, while offering a high level of sound insulation.

“Glass bricks also provide a good level of safety and constitute an effective fire barrier. Since the pressure inside glass bricks is lower than the atmospheric pressure, in the event of breakage the glass fragments tend to implode rather than explode,” she says. “In addition, glass blocks are entirely recyclable.”

Polycarbonate sheeting
Translucent polycarbonate sheeting offers a lightweight, yet rigid option for interior architects and designers to create meeting spaces or screening for breakaway areas within an open-plan office.

“The trapped air inside the cells of the sheet provides acoustic insulation, whilst giving a sense of privacy,” explains Blommestijn. “However, the greatest benefit is that it allows light transmission through the sheets, which reduces the required amount of unnatural light and saves electricity.”

“It further has flame-retardant qualities and an extensive colour palette to choose from. This product is often used as a substrate for digitally printed vinyl to be applied, allowing the designer to bring a company’s branding into the building. These sheets can also be screen-printed or digitally printed using a UV Digital flat-bed printer, offering designers the ability to be creative with the material,” he adds.  

Fitting it all
According to Gould, the planning of doors to fit is a thing of the past with the innovation of prefabricated glazing modules, doors and doorframes according to required sizes. “In addition, glass louvres are no longer necessary for ventilation, since doors are considered adequate,” he says.

“My advice to professionals is to consider the speed of installation and reduce costs by designing the heights so that there is no cutting and waste of materials when it comes to board, steel and aluminium. These are all too often thrown away in great quantities when constructing a high-rise building that was designed with identical floors. Far too little is done to save the cost of these offcuts, as well as the labour required for cutting and the cost of disposing them into our environment.”

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to Aluglass Bautech, Cecilia Architects, Lafarge Gypsum, Marley Building Systems, Office Objects, Pelican Systems, Perspex and Saint-Gobain Gyproc for the information given to write this article.

Interior walling in commercial buildings:
Things to consider:
–    Acoustics.
–    Natural lighting.
–    Fire ratings.
Popular materials
–    Dry construction and light steel systems.
–    Drywall.
–    Plasterboard.
–    Glass.
–    Polycarbonate sheets.

You may also like