DDM – The Truth about Architectural Walls

The Truth about Architectural Walls:
I’ve talked about architectural walls before; compared them to conventional construction, and provided insight to their fiscal depreciation benefits.  However, in this series we want to challenge our readers, more than just provide them with industry specific details; we want to provide useful information that applies to whatever industry you work in. 

Will you ever buy architectural walls?  Maybe your business is such that you’re never going to be in a position of need to construct new office space, so the idea of architectural walls doesn’t quite relate?

To make sense I’m going to bring this home and talk a little about myself, please bear with me.  I’m a boxer; boxed competitively and hold the Golden Gloves championship as well as the Middleweight Belt for BC.  I love my cars; it feels good to have that much engineering in the palm of your hands.  As well, I try to be active within the community; I’m a member and proud supporter of different groups and societies.  How does any of this matter?  All of the different experiences that I have, and have gone through and go through on a regular basis, make me a better-rounded individual.  Things I’ve learned in boxing – about reading the competition, waiting to strike, discipline – have all been extremely beneficial to my career in office furniture.  Same is said for every other aspect of my life; they complement one another.
I made the case about my own life, because even though you may never be in a position to buy architectural walls, there are aspects of the industry that may augment your other initiatives or practices.  This is that ‘Aha’ moment for me, when I’ve hopefully communicated to you that this message is far from a sales-pitch.
Manufacturers and dealers alike will stretch the truth when they’re trying to sell you something.  When the pressure of business mounts and a deal needs to be closed, I’ve seen the sweat beads on foreheads and the battle between doing what’s right and what might seal-the-deal.  These little-white-lies have been floating around the industry, and depending on whom you’re speaking with, are declared as true by the unsuspecting, or uninformed.
Direction of Industry:
First, let’s talk about the direction the industry is going.  Architectural Walls are capturing a large chunk of the market-share from conventional construction.  The amount of projects in the last four years have grown exponentially, cutting into the norm of conventional construction, and challenging the way we view our options and plan our spaces.
This growth of walls has eluded to many statements and idioms floating about architectural walls.  I’ve heard cost brought up quite often; or that reconfigurable walls didn’t make sense to most organisations; or how the ability to dampen sound is worse, rather than when conventional construction is used; all of these are concepts of misinformation that I will speak to below.
The Bottom Line:
Truth is, we’re all in business to succeed, so whether we’re number-crunchers or savvy-minded-businesspeople, the bottom line matters.  Because of the strength of cost in any acquisition, this has been a tool used by benefitting parties to discredit architectural walls.  However, let’s start to examine how this misconception has come to be:

1. Glass – the largest contributing factor has been the argument that drywall (or conventional construction) is cheaper than architectural walls.  However, every time this argument is used, it is against a standard drywall application versus either clerestory or monolithic glass options.  To put that into perspective, imagine being told to stay away from tablet’s because your smartphone is capable enough – that’s not an apples-to-apples comparison:
a. If glass is being used, it has to be compared to conventional alternatives to glass-walls, either demountable walls or a framed glass application; when you use similar options, the hard-costs – glass – end up being the same or similar, so the price gap has been extremely reduced.
b. When just a bare surface wall is being specified for an application, this changes the most significant factor in the price; glass.  Owners, general contractors, architects and designers alike, need to be concise when asking for specifications.  If they know that price is an issue, they should compare apples-to-apples, rather than test the waters and ask for a glass-walls quote to versus a typical drywall application.  The industry would flood if people understood there was a cost-competitive alternative, and that architectural walls doesn’t always mean glass walls.

2. Soft Costs – they’re called soft costs, but their definitely not soft!  The methodology of architectural walls and conventional construction are just different.  The walls business is at heart a furniture baby, it wants to go through the standard acquisition process and be handled just once.  Conventional construction, on the other hand, ties into a bill of materials, where the hard-costs are calculated through materials, and labour is encapsulated throughout the breadth of the project. 
The methodology of conventional construction calls for the studs and the drywall, yes, but also the spackled and sanded surfaces; the hardwiring of electrics; the surface or paint coating; the additional materials and labour force the cost to be what it is, which is higher than just a materials cost-comparison.
3. Poor Sales Education – whether it’s through us dealers or through competitive parties on the side of conventional construction, a poor and biased opinion is often close at hand.  If someone is unable to break out the true costs, and stake their hat at them, be cautious.  The same is true when buying a used car, stay away from the shady dealers that paint every car on their lot to be a dreamboat, and bring a mechanic.
Employee Churn:
Whenever people are asking why to use architectural walls, I start to list reason upon reason.  However quite often, an argument that is raised, is why do we need the configurability anyways?  I have to take it right back home and ask, why do we need to recycle, anyways?  I mean essentially, whether you throw it in the garbage or throw it in the blue bin; you’re doing your responsibility and removing it from your possession, right?  That’s the ideology behind the question.  Even if you don’t have employee churn or never reconfigure the walls, the sustainability impact is quite the same as comparing it to throwing out a pop-can or recycling it.  The excuse is used to help conceal the daunting ‘how much is it going to cost?’ question, which is only daunting if you’re not willing to do the math.
Sound Transmission:
Simple math is, the STC rating of standard drywall is 38-40 (without insulation).  The standard STC rating of (I’m going to pick the Teknion Altos system, so I do not generalise walls; there are inferior products out there) is 40 (without insulation).  With insulation, drywall typically will jump up to 43-44, and Altos utilises a standard sound-deafening insulation that will jump its rating up to 48.
Even with a high STC rating, any penetration, air-gap, or “flanking” path can seriously degrade the isolation quality of a wall. Flanking paths are the means for sound to transfer from one space to another other than through the wall. Sound can flank over, under, or around a wall. Sound can also travel through common ductwork, plumbing or corridors. Noise will travel between spaces at the weakest points. There is no reason to spend money or effort to improve the walls until all the weak points are controlled. *
With the average commercial space using T-bar ceilings, whenever architectural walls are brought up, people are looking to cut corners.  The questions are quickly asked, can we pressure fit between T-bar?  Yes we can, but that’s the same as framing a wall right up the ceiling with drywall.  Once we start to make architectural decisions based upon cost, we’re pretty much saying that we can do the architect’s job better than they.  We need to provide an architect with the vision, and let them work out the details, because addressing STC is more than just putting a thick wall in-between offices, and part of their job is knowing that.
The Impact of Architectural Walls:
We’ve been waiting for you to ask!  The picture of our cover for this article is ‘The Bow’, which is the home to one of the world’s largest installations of full-height demountable wall products. In fact, if all of the Teknion Altos demountable walls were assembled in a straight line, they would extend about 32 km (20 miles). Altos will be used throughout the 58 floors to define individual offices, collaborative workspaces and meeting areas.
Once The Bow is open for business in Calgary, Alberta, the flexibility and reconfigurability of the Altos wall will quickly become apparent. Not only can Altos be easily moved, but the wall fascias themselves can be easily switched out to meet changing functional or aesthetic requirements. For example, the walls’ glass fascias can be switched to wood with no disruption to the space. The inherent flexibility of Altos is a testament to why demountable walls have become the fastest growing segment of the contract furniture industry.
“The scope of The Bow project is unprecedented,” says Frank Delfino, President of Worldwide Markets, Teknion.
The true impact of architectural walls can be seen in case-study over case-study.  We’re increasing the market-share, and we’re going to aggressively encroach on conventional construction through means of education and strategic implementation. 


For more information Contact: TOTAL OFFICEPlanning Services – Professional Delivery & Installation 420 Banks Road Kelowna, B.C. V1X 6A3 Tel:250.717.1626 / Cell:250.869.5304 Toll Free:1.800.558.DESK (3375) E: info@TotalOfficeBC.caW:  http://www.totalofficebc.ca/

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