4 FM quick reads on interiors
1. Open Work Spaces Require Careful Noise Management
Today's tip is to minimize extraneous noise in open office settings. Many organizations have found that a more open environment, with movable partitions and plenty of meeting places, is more conducive to productivity than the permanent offices that prevailed 30-some years ago.
But openness means that employees are likely to be distracted by other employees' conversations, cell phones ringing, etc. To get the benefits of open office designs while minimizing distractions, a range of acoustical goals come into play, says Jeffrey Fullerton, director of architectural acoustics with Acentech. These include controlling the noise in common areas, creating some level of privacy and sound absorption for workers at their desks, and creating private rooms for confidential discussions.
It's easiest to achieve specific goals when the building is designed with acoustics in mind from the start, says Raj Patel, principal with Arup, an engineering and consulting firm. Otherwise, the costs to remedy any noise problems tend to spike.
When developing the acoustical environment, the acronym ABC comes into play, says Fullerton. That is, you want to absorb, block and cover sounds. Absorption requires what might be called passive tools, such as sound-absorbing ceiling panels. "It may be a greater cost initially, but it requires no maintenance or additional changes," says David Joiner, principal with JaffeHolden. Without sound-absorbing ceiling panels, employees' conversations and similar sounds will reflect off the ceiling.
Effective sound-absorbing ceiling materials will have an NRC, or noise reduction coefficient, of .85 or greater, meaning that they remove 85 percent of the sound bouncing off the ceiling. Fiberglass ceiling tiles with a painted finish tend to have NRCs that are about 25 percent higher than what mineral fiber tiles provide, says Thomas Trask, senior associate with Newcomb & Boyd. Fiberglass "is more absorptive at the same thickness versus mineral fiber."
To offer tiles that both block sound from the plenum and also absorb sound from offices below, some manufacturers are developing tiles that combine fiberglass and mineral fiber, Fullerton says.
Another situation where sounds need to be managed both from above and below is in open plenum spaces, where the bottom of the exposed concrete deck reflects sound. One solution is to incorporate sound-absorbing material into the design. Ceiling system manufacturers have developed products specifically for open plenum spaces.
2. Balancing Innovation With Practicality in Green Interiors
As sustainable interior choices continue to mature, facility managers are faced with an ever widening array of possibilities in everything from paints to furniture, wall coverings to carpeting. Just about everywhere you look, a green choice is an option. And designers love to play with new toys, which leaves facility managers to balance out how to pursue higher functionality and performance with the realities of running a facilities management department.
Here is what Peter Strazdas associate vice president, facilities management at Western Michigan University, has to say on the matter of balancing green innovation with practical considerations. First of all, whatever product is selected requires training the staff on how to use it and maintain it. And then, "if you keep adding new stuff, the operating folks become less efficient, because now they have to stock more," he says. "Your maintenance stock is going to be inefficient. So the more new stuff you get on a campus, the more variety that you have, designers love it and maintenance people hate it."
More variety equals less efficiency in maintaining stock. Which is not to say stick with the same old same old just for the sake of inventory management. At Western Michigan, they have a maintenance storeroom with $1million worth of product. If they had one of everything, that would be an inefficient storeroom, Strazdas says. On the other hand, he adds, only one light bulb type for the whole campus would be inefficient.
"You have to introduce the new stuff in a smart way to have a reasonable shot at maintaining a balance for the operating side of the budget," he says.
3. How to Use LEED-CI
Today's tip is about the LEED for Commercial Interiors rating system. If you manage tenant space, now is a good time to take a look at LEED-CI before the rating system changes next June.
One of the more surprising things about LEED-CI is that you can get up to 37 points for energy efficiency strategies in tenant space. Tenants often assume there isn't much that can be done about energy use in their space, but LEED-CI provides a good blueprint for ways to be efficient — including lighting power, lighting controls, enhanced commissioning, and buying green power. Like most LEED-CI strategies, at the very least, the energy efficiency category provides a good opportunity to have a conversation with the owner, landlord and property managers about what can be done to reduce energy.
The next most points-rich category is sustainable sites, which again seems a bit illogical, since tenants are more or less locked into their sites. But this category provides points for strategies like access to public transportation - which means, if tenants have LEED-CI certification in their future plans, it behooves them to pick a building near such public transportation. But tenants also earn points for bicycle storage and changing rooms and parking availability.
Using sustainable materials and resources, including materials that enhance indoor air quality, in the tenant build-out is also a key way to earn LEED-CI points. Use certified wood, materials with recycled content, and paints, adhesives, flooring systems and systems furniture that meet acceptable levels of low-VOC emissions.
Ultimately, success or failure with LEED-CI comes down to a careful cooperation between the tenant, its occupants and landlords and property managers. But securing a sustainable tenant space can be a good way, as studies are increasingly showing, to attracting and retaining the top talent.
4. Collaboration A More Important Element Of Office Design
This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management. Today's tip is that as collaboration becomes more important in the workplace, office design has to account for it.
Some types of work naturally lend themselves to collaboration to encourage communication, idea sharing and flexibility. Students work in open spaces beginning at a young age, having just enough space to claim a desk or locker as their own. Newsrooms are typically open areas where reporters and editors can easily communicate without walking from office to office or cubicle to cubicle. A portion of the work that Congress conducts is in large, wide-open chambers.
The idea of designing a workplace to encourage collaboration clearly isn't new. And when it comes to fostering teamwork, there's no one template that applies across all organizations. But more and more companies are pushing harder and harder to encourage open communication and spontaneous idea sharing. Organizations that already have open-plan workspaces are trying new approaches to maximize collaboration. And even those whose work involves client confidentiality and privacy are turning to open office space that encourages collaboration.
The team approach to collaboration not only occurs inside and outside an organization, it also happens in a variety of locations. The individuals could be at a table in the same room, they could be in the same building but in different workspaces, or they could be in different cities on a conference call.
Having greater collaboration, including taking a more team-oriented approach, also involves generational changes, demographic shifts and evolving cultures. Employees in their 20s and 30s worked with their classmates to solve problems beginning as early as kindergarten and extending into college. For some of them, taking that approach into their career is a natural transition.
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