With partitioning likely to be in higher demand owing to social distancing guidelines and changing attitudes, what should be considered when thinking about dividing a space?

SUB-DIVISION with partitioning is going to be a solution to support the social distancing needs for businesses looking to return staff to offices and there are some
key considerations to be taken into account before work begins.

Decisions need to be made in line with understanding of the new occupancy levels and the relationship between people and departments.

The questions to consider in this process of cellularisation are:
• What are the needs?
• What else should be considered?
• How is a partition system selected?
• How is the installation organised?

What are the needs?
The needs of the business should be identified based on staff occupancy, so it’s important to establish whether the occupancy will be the same or whether it has reduced since social distancing requirements came into force and indeed how this is likely to change in the future.

The departmental and communication needs should then be evaluated- where departments are currently based, and what their needs will be going forward.

The people and operations then need to be taken into account: How many people need to meet at any one time and how many single occupancy spaces are needed?

For those who don’t feel equipped to carry out the space analysis in house, it’s wise to consult a specialist organisation that is experienced in studying data and analysing
results. They will carry out a thorough needs analysis to provide guidance and advice on space planning.

What else should be considered?
Partition systems come in several options and each is designed to accommodate the individual needs of an organisation and its occupants.

The main points to consider are:
• Performance
• Aesthetics
• Ventilation
• Lighting
• Services
• Building regulations
• Flexibility
• Dilapidations

Performance includes fire resistance, reducing sound transmission and privacy, and addressing reverberation in the space which is particularly important with video conferencing. This needs to be balanced with the need for flexibility.

Partition systems can be solid, glazed, part-glazed and double-glazed. Blinds or manifestation can be added which can reinforce a corporate identity or add images of outdoor landscapes to the space.

Some systems are unframed glass whilst others use the frames to break up the glass with vertical and even horizontal lines in dark aluminium or timber.

Ventilation requirements should be discussed with an M&E engineer to ensure the required number of air changes are achieved, or future staff productivity may drop off as the CO2 levels rise.

Lighting layouts may have to change to accommodate the new layouts and to ensure the correct levels of lighting are maintained.

Lighting that reflects the circadian cycle could be installed as a further improvement for staff wellbeing.

Any services that are running through where the partition will be installed should be reconfigured to accommodate the new partitioning, including lighting, ventilation, trunking, floor boxes, radiators etc.

Guidance to meet the Building Regulations can be found in the ‘Approved Documents’. These include fire, ventilation, safety and access and it is imperative to consult with a Local Authority Building Inspector or approved inspector before commencing work.

Selecting a partition system should be based initially on performance, fire, acoustics, safety primarily – but “cleanability” is a new consideration. Then aesthetics and other needs can then be taken into account, for example whether the partition should be installed below, up to or through the suspended ceiling and whether sound reduction can be maintained with baffles in the ceiling void. Other considerations such as using offsite manufactured components and flexible relocatable systems which may offer tax advantages should be discussed.

Doors and Ironmongery
The type of doors, use of automatic opening devices and antimicrobial ironmongery are also important considerations.

Doors are an integral part of a partition system and are the one element that users interact with daily. It is important that doors are co-ordinated with the partition manufacturer, especially where sound and fire performance is required. Many partition manufacturers also manufacture doors, so can supply doors in structural openings as part of a coordinated interior.

Douglas Masterson, Technical Manager at The Guild of Architectural Ironmongers, points out that the use of anti-bacterial/anti-microbial handles are effective but do not kill germs instantly. Copper and silver are examples of natural materials which are currently being used as either coatings or within the fabric of handles. Douglas says it is better to automate a door where it does not have to be touched at all and to consider the use of touch-free activation buttons instead of push buttons or radar. He stresses that installation of these devices should only be by trained professionals who would be installing to EN 16005.

Doors could be held open, meaning they do not have to be touched. Whilst it can be tempting for people to do so, they should not use devices to hold open a fire door unless linked to the fire alarm.

The use of touch-free proximity cards or fobs could be considered instead of digital keypads and hands-free switches could be used instead of exit buttons.

Organising the safe installation of the partition requires professional planning to allow for the disruption and safe delivery and carting of materials into the new office and safe working conditions for the installers as well as the occupants.

The FIS Client Guide to Office Fit-Out and Refurbishment is designed to guide you through the process from the initial decision, through to post occupancy evaluation. It explains step by step the process, along with outlining the professions who are available to help ensure a successful outcome.


Types of partitions
RELOCATABLE AND DEMOUNTABLE: A relocatable or reusable partition system can be removed and relocated without substantial repair (using a minimum of 80% of original components). It should be capable of reinstallation within a tolerance of up to 10mm of the original installed height. Demountable partitions cannot betaken down without damaging or destroying some or all of the components.

PODS: Office pods are informal meeting room solutions in offices and usually comprise acoustic panels, glass panels and either fixed or sliding doors.

COMPOSITE ALUMINIUM FRAMED SYSTEMS: Composite systems are designed to construct a generally demountable, lightweight, economical and easily erected office partitioning system and modules can be solid or glazed. The system is based on a nominal 1200mm module and standard components provide for junctions, corners, or changes of direction.

STUD AND BOARD SYSTEMS: Stud and board systems form demountable, non-loadbearing, lightweight performance partitioning systems. Systems are generally based on 1200mm modules and are constructed with a framework of galvanised studs, faced on both sides with one or two layers of 12.5mm plasterboard. The cavity formed can be used to incorporate insulation material.

FRAMELESS GLASS PARTITIONS: Frameless glass partitions comprise 10mm to 15mm safety glass, installed between head and floor tracks. The edges of the glass are polished to accept a jointing method to provide a frameless glass partition. The glass can be installed in module sizes of up to 1500mm wide (subject to access into and around the site), or can be equalised along the partition run, but this makes relocation more difficult.

TIMBER SYSTEMS: Pre-lacquered timber or veneered MDF (V-MDF) partition systems can offer fire resistance, good acoustic performance, a wide range of veneers, and generally an option of double or offset glazing.

BI-PANEL SYSTEMS: Bi-Panel systems are made up of two single, factory-produced panels, usually in 1200mm or 1500mm module widths, hooked onto an upright stud. Panels can be manufactured from steel-faced plasterboard, veneered, painted and laminated MDF panels, as well as glazed panels. The systems can be relocated and have different finishes on each side of a module.

MONOBLOC SYSTEMS: Monobloc systems are manufactured and assembled in factory conditions to either specific or standard dimensions. Each panel will arrive on site with its pre-finished face which can be solid, glazed, glazed with integral blinds, or half glazed.

OPERABLE WALLS: Operable walls are installed by the manufacturer or their specific agent and are delivered to site in their finished state ready for final installation.

MANIFESTATIONS: Glass films are applied within partitions for a number of safety and design reasons including prevention of accidental collision, privacy, corporate branding and blast safety.