Help For the 21st Century

04/08/2002 |

Movable Walls – a Flexible Solution For Future-ready Workspaces

By Greg Bobyn

In the Industrial Age, efficiency and stability were the models for business. For success in today’s Information Age, technology requires agility and innovation. However, today’s business model often suffers at the hands of real estate – when an inability to adapt and treat tenants as clients turns real estate assets into liabilities. The results are short lease terms, the loss of clients when those leases come up for renewal, and the constant cost of tenant churn.

The immediate need for nearly all office real estate in the 21st century is to offer quick-connect platforms that allow tenants to be their most agile in uncertain times and their most innovative when times are good. The best way to help keep space leased isn’t to guess what the future will bring technologically, but to let the space be open to whatever comes. Having movable walls or partitions, on top of a flexible technology platform, is an extremely successful way to get agile.

An access floor, delivered with a universal zone distribution model and quick connect power and data, provides a technological complement to movable walls and furniture. This makes the entire environment open to being whatever the tenant needs, allowing walls, furniture, lights, etc. to move without tearing up miles and miles of cable and tearing down tons of drywall. In North America alone, over $16 billion is spent every year on re-cabling.

In many cases, movable walls are factory-made with the option of pre-wired data and power installed for vertical or horizontal distribution. Movable walls are vastly different from demountable walls. Demountables still require expensive trades such as electricians and data specialists to rough in their work during construction and renovation. On the other hand, when fully unitized walls arrive on-site ready to plug in, the schedule and cost for trades suddenly goes down for both initial installation and later reconfiguration.

Wireless technology is also something to think about when choosing movable walls and technology platforms. Of surveyed development managers, 46 percent say they plan to go wireless sooner rather than later.

Wireless technology is only “wireless” to the end-user. Small local antennas are spread through the interior supporting such wireless systems. These are extensively connected to high-speed cables, best located in an access floor system.

Radio frequencies (RF) prefer an unobstructed environment – unlikely in an office situation. So, before choosing partitions for demising the space in a wireless environment, do some homework. Some materials (see below) are more conducive to allowing RF signals to pass through than others. While there is little in the way of exhaustive science when predicting the properties of common building materials, there are relative comparisons of performance predictions – with reinforced concrete and steel being the most obstructive to signal paths.

Overall, movable walls with pre-wired components, along with quick-connect power and data zone distribution, allow a space to become a useful partner in the Information Age. For a building owner, this means no damage to the building, no giant waste containers, and no fees for disposal of technology waste.

Greg Bobyn ( is a vice president at Calgary, Alberta-based SMED International (

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