Smart Design Smart Spaces

May 15, 2002
Movable Walls — When and Why They Make Sense
By Rich BenoitConsider the demands knowledge workers place on their office environments. Private offices, team spaces, conference rooms, hoteling spaces, training rooms, and reception areas all compete for square footage within the workplace. The problem is, as company needs and workforce sizes fluctuate, the way space is allocated must also change. In fact, according to research by Houston-based International Facility Managers Association (IFMA), the average enclosed office occupancy move rate in the United States is 44 percent. This means that in any given year, 44 percent of all U.S. organizations can anticipate changes within their organization that will require them to reorganize their office space. And changes to the physical office environment can cost organizations time and money, not to mention the frustration and disruption that a move causes.One way to make a workplace more supportive is by utilizing movable wall systems. Movable walls make workplaces more adaptive, besides being economically sensible and environmentally friendly.• Adaptive. Movable walls are intended to create strategic workplaces that evolve as needs dictate. They provide environments that can be completely reconfigured overnight. Additionally, movable walls can integrate modular electrical systems and improve accessibility to communications cabling, which makes it easier to move the technology associated with reconfiguration. Movable walls can support worksurfaces, overhead bins, and other hanging furniture, making workstation moves simpler.• Economically Sensible. Drywall build-out is generally considered to be $25 to $50 per linear foot. However, it is actually closer to $80 to $100 per linear foot when basic fit-out elements like electrical, voice, data, doors, and frames are included. Movable walls, at first cost, are 30- to 60-percent more expensive than traditional walls. But tax advantages, faster installation, and lower costs of later reconfiguration can mean that incremental investment will be recovered over the life of the office environment.For tax purposes, movable walls are classified in the same category as office furniture and equipment. As a result, their cost can be depreciated on an accelerated basis over just 7.5 years, as opposed to 39 years for conventional construction. By accelerating the depreciation, the investment in movable walls can be written off faster and increase incremental cash flow.• Environmentally Friendly. Finally, movable walls are environmentally friendly. They can be constructed of up to 30-percent recycled steel and finished with paints that are VOC-free, glues that contain no ODS, and glass constructed without silicone or glazing compounds. And, because movable walls are 100-percent reusable, they move with you, keeping them out of dumpsters and landfills.Generally, movable walls are a good investment for organizations that want to respond quickly to internal and external change, and leverage facility-related costs in order to help employees work more effectively.Rich Benoit is utilities development product manager at Grand Rapids, MI-based Steelcase Inc. (

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