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What Are Modular Walls?

Here is the simple definition – Floor-to-ceiling partitions that can be repositioned and reused for a flexible workplace environment. These adaptable wall systems can be disassembled, moved, and reassembled when reconfiguring office space.

Everyone remembers the traditional office cubicle that rose to popularity in the late 1960s right? Well, prefabricated modular wall systems were around long before then. By the early 1930s, there were several major manufacturers of office wall systems, including Add-A-Unit Office and Bank Partitions, Masterwalls by Hauserman, Mowalco Interior Partitions, and the New Moveable Pabcowall System.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, the rise of small businesses and start-up culture sparked a new trend in office design – the collaborative workspace. This new trend led to the more modern modular and prefabricated walls you see today, made popular by companies like DIRTT, Falkbuilt, Steelcase, and Allsteel, among many others. Today’s modular wall systems are sleek, many with glass fronts to allow for more light, with some products available in full panels, brickwork, or duo-segments with glass or laminate. This wide range of choices allows companies to design their workspace with the perfect balance of full privacy or partial openness while maintaining a consistent aesthetic throughout.

What are the benefits of modular wall systems?

Ever since the modernization of modular wall systems, the architecture and construction industry has seen immense benefits in employing them. Allow April Durham (Senior Interior Designer at SHYFT) and Stephen Manus (Director of Projects – IA at SHYFT) to explain several of the benefits:

1. Flexibility & Adaptability

  • AD: Open spaces may not be everyone’s favorite, but you probably do not want to be boxed in either. That is why modular walls are a good solution. They can give you the privacy you desire, and still let you feel a part of the office. Modular walls have so many options to achieve a design that will work for your day-to-day business activities. Companies can remove and relocate partitions in a matter of hours vs. days/weeks. Any infrastructure changes, AV equipment upgrades, and finish changes are easier and faster to complete with a tiled prefab solution. Given the ideal design of a new space, the modular wall system can be relocated for future use.

2. Time & Money

  • SM: Various project factors and design elements are considered when determining if modular wall construction could result in a cost or schedule savings as compared to traditional construction, including site condition (shell, 2nd gen, vanilla box), existing MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) supply, ceiling type, flooring type, etc. By leveraging a product that includes pre-wired electrical outlets and pre-cut rough-ins, a modular wall system can be ideal for a new shell space with little to no mechanical or electrical distribution. Installing a modular system may also create efficiencies for other trades. For example, flooring and ceiling products can be installed without cutting around walls.

3. Off-Site Construction & Minimal Impact on your Business

  • SM: As mentioned before, modular wall systems are constructed off-site and are then brought to your site in flat-packed panels, ready to build. The process of building off-site is transforming the construction industry for businesses and individuals, ensuring better quality and less disruption. A major attraction of using these wall systems is that it removes nearly 80% of the construction activity from the site location so you can keep your business running smoothly with minimal impact and disruption.

4. Eco-Friendly Material & Options

  • AD: Many modular walls are made from recyclable and reusable materials. They are also dust-free. A fun option to a modular wall to break up space is adding a living plant wall, which is eco-friendly and healthy for several reasons in the workplace. Not only can plant walls help employees relax, but they’ll also literally make it easier to breathe!

5. Quality Construction & Durable Materials

  • SM: The nature of modular wall systems and indoor construction means that quality and safety are certain, and the materials are protected from the outside elements during construction. Modular wall systems are constructed with extremely durable materials to ensure that they are built to last a long time. Manufacturers offer materials that add aesthetic value while maintaining the right level of sound reduction.

6. Integrated Technology & Electrical

  • SM: Some modular wall manufacturers offer solutions that allow for the integration of electrical systems and audio-visual equipment. Depending on the electrical design, distribution to wall outlets could be as simple as plugging in a quick-connect whip in the ceiling. The client’s IT team is then able to service integrated audio-visual equipment by simply removing a wall tile in a matter of minutes.

How have modular walls shaped workplace design?

Modular walls are more relevant now than ever – businesses need to be agile. What exactly does that mean? In the world of workplace design, an “agile” office is one that can be reconfigured and rearranged on demand. So, instead of dividing up space with drywall and steel, these “agile” workspaces use prefabricated modular walls and flexible furniture systems. This gives companies the ability to react to increases or decreases in workload or employee base and refine layouts to increase efficiency and productivity. Truth is, the evolution of the workplace is changing at a rapid pace, and office design plays a huge role in allowing for that evolution and growth to take place. Not only do modular walls provide the ability to modify the workspace quickly and easily, but more significantly, they provide a way for organizations to make changes as change is needed.

Another way modular walls have shaped the workplace is simply by improving corporate image with their sleek and versatile designs. Corporate image is crucial when trying to attract new employees or impress clients – you need an office that is uniquely designed, visually pleasing, and emphasizes your brand. Contrary to conventional drywall, modular walls offer an unparalleled visual aesthetic with a plethora of design options - fabrics, paints, veneers, custom finishes, as well as multiple glass and hardware alternatives. The design possibilities with modular walls are simply never-ending, allowing businesses and organizations to support and show off their brand with their unique office design.

What are some best practices when working with modular wall systems?

It is important to identify some best practices when working in the realm of modular wall systems in order to have a successful experience. While asking questions and triple-checking answers are ALWAYS good best practices for any work, Stephen Manus provides some more inclusive tips when working with modular wall systems:

  • "Coordinate closely with the construction team for any hold-to dimensions ahead of product orders"

  • "Coordinate closely with MEP teams to ensure all rough-ins (the rough or unfinished versions) are positioned correctly in the prefab product"

  • "Consider bulkhead locations for office fronts"

  • "Evaluate electrical distribution options when designing a shell space"

  • "Create a work-breakdown-structure to define scopes of work between the modular wall installers and other trades – i.e. electrical contractor, AV vendor, security vendor, etc."

  • "Consider areas to wait for ceiling installation until after the prefab product is installed to avoid replacing and repairing damaged tiles"

  • "Review and modify the sequence of scheduled construction activities to maximize schedule savings"

  • "Discuss potential tax advantages with a client when considering modular wall product – i.e. most prefab systems are considered FF&E (furniture, fixture & equipment) and can be fully depreciated the first year"


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