Innovative Interiors

Research, creativity, and functionality intersect to meet the needs of the client and building occupants
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Sponsored by ARCHITECTURAL GRILLE, Construction Specialties, Doug Mockett & Company, Infinity Drain, Inpro, NanaWall Systems, and XtremeInterior Architectural Solutions
By Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP
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Design Treatments for Walls and Elevator Cabs

Beyond wall panels of different types, the surface finish of walls is always a significant design item. Interior wall protection is a given in facilities with high traffic and the risk of wall damage, but a balance between appearance and durability needs to be struck to create surface conditions that are both appealing and easy to maintain. In that regard, manufacturers have come a long way by developing rigid, protective sheet products in vibrant solid colors, various patterned products, and realistic woodgrains.

There is also often the need or desire to include graphics in the form of photos, logos, information, teaching, or wayfinding on the surface of walls. Protecting such graphics as well as the wall can be a challenge in high-use areas, but there is an innovative solution for that now that is worth considering. The use of digitally printed wall panels has emerged as a truly viable wall surface option for many buildings. Printing the image on the back side of a durable, clear rigid sheet means that the image is protected by the clear covering. If the exposed surface becomes dirty or is bumped, the plastic takes the hit, not the graphic image.

Printed wall protection transforms what designers most likely consider a necessary evil into beautiful artwork. Because printed wall protection is all custom made, designers have total design flexibility to incorporate any and all images they choose as part of the overall design vision. It also allows for the incorporation of large-scale imagery or smaller graphics—from entire walls in a school gymnasium, to an atrium in a hotel lobby, to smaller art elements for a corporate board or conference room. In health care, the inclusion of biophilic imagery, which mimics nature, has been shown to play a role in patient comfort and calming. In education, school mascots become wall-size giants to build school spirit and pride. In hospitality spaces, the imagery can be tied to the locale such as local landmarks or attuned to the hotel’s brand and/or décor.

Such graphic imagery doesn’t need to be confined just to walls. Among the most used spaces in a multistory building are the elevator cabs. The walls of these cabs have been discovered by many building owners as a means to communicate with visitors, tenants, and others about some aspect of the building use. In essence, the elevator cab can become a daily ambassador of the message or branding of the building. However, these cabs are subject to deterioration and damage precisely because of their heavy use. This damage gives the impression that the owner does not care about upkeep of the building, which in turn may create a negative perception about the entire organization. Maintaining the brand image of a facility is usually quite important for people trying to retain clients and give visitors a pleasant experience. Therefore, the elevator cabs need to be updated regularly either to overcome a worn and unsightly appearance or to simply upgrade the look to be consistent with the organization or other parts of the building. Further, leaving an old, damaged, dark, and dingy elevator cab out of a larger building renovation project can very well make the appearance look worse and leave an otherwise beautiful upgrade project with a serious black eye.

The most cost-effective and innovative way to carry out such an elevator cab upgrade is to use preconfigured elevator cab renovation systems from a manufacturer that has a specialty line of products to address these needs. This system can include any or all of the following elements.

  • New panels: The elevator panels that line the walls are what primarily make up the appearance of the cab. These panels also typically take quite a beating—from hospital beds to luggage carts, tenant move ins and outs, construction equipment, vandalism and whatever else may come its way. Fortunately, the panels can be made of durable and rugged materials that can be made to look like any range of materials from wood to metal to stone or custom choices. Sometimes materials are improperly selected because of first appearances or first costs. The downside to that is that the chosen material may look fine for the first month or so but then deteriorates quickly from heavy use. That means the building owner needs to spend more money to replace it with a more-durable product that should have been installed in the first place.

  • New ceilings and lighting: Elevator ceilings come in many different styles and can be selected to suit an overall design concept. Lighting in elevator cabs can be chosen from among common lamping options, such as halogen, incandescent, fluorescent, or energy efficient LED. Keep in mind that people tend to be more comfortable in a well-lit interior, so combining a brighter ceiling with increased lighting output can help people feel more relaxed inside, not to mention create a newer and cleaner look. The energy efficiency of increased elevator cab lighting may not seem significant at first, but consider that, in most cases, these lights stay lit 24 hours a day seven days a week meaning they are running for 8,760 hours a year. That can add up to a lot of energy and the utility bills that go along with it. Further, selecting energy-efficient LED lighting means the lamps have a much longer service life, notably reducing maintenance costs for replacements.

  • New handrails: Handrails in elevators may not get much attention unless ADA or accessibility code requirements are being looked at. The handrails provide stability for users (i.e., something to grasp) while the elevator stops and starts. This is particularly true for elderly, disabled, or injured people who need help to reduce the risk of a fall. Beyond the people aspect of handrails, they provide a means for a complete look to the cab and can act as a wall guard too. By providing a stand-off surface from the wall of the cab, they can reduce the chance of equipment or furniture striking the wall panels. As part of a total system for elevator cabs, handrails come in different shapes, sizes, and finishes.

Paying attention to both the appearance and durability of wall surfaces and elevator cabs can clearly pay off in terms of creating successful, innovative interiors.

Two interior photos of All Saints Hospital.

Photos courtesy of Inpro

A $20-million expansion more than doubled the size of the Cancer Center at All Saints Hospital in Racine, Wisconsin. Eppstein Uhen Architects incorporated large-scale digital wall cladding into three lounges/waiting areas of the new facility, which featured tranquil nature scenes.



Two photos of the elevators at the campus of the University of North Carolina.

A $3.5-million renovation project to modernize multiple elevators across the campus of the University of North Carolina – Charlotte included multiple woodland patterns with custom graphic logos applied in selected locations plus new ceilings, lighting, and stainless steel handrails.

Operable Glass Interior Walls

While many people think of walls as stationary to isolate spaces from one another, there are plenty of occasions when having the ability to open up and connect two spaces is desirable. This is particularly true in a number of commercial, office, retail, hospitality, restaurant, and educational settings where different sized groups of people can create different space needs. At the same time, having visual access for either light or functional connectivity when walls are closed can be desirable or necessary in certain design situations. As such, the approach of creating open use of spaces with flexible square footage has become increasingly popular and is a true innovation in interior design and planning. The means to do this found in operable glass interior walls that can fold or slide into either open or closed positions at will.

When looking at incorporating an operable glass interior wall into a project, there are four prime design considerations. These include:

  • Flexibility: Operable glass walls provide ultimate flexibility for either separating spaces or combining two or more spaces. Selecting a product that is truly easy to use is important so that it will actually be used as intended and not become a liability rather than an asset.

  • Light: When the operable wall is open, all of the available light can pour into the space that would otherwise be closed off by a wall. When the operable wall is closed, it can either be opaque or translucent to block some or all of the light if desired, or it can be made with clear glass and minimal edge frames to still allow full light into the enclosed space. The use of glass also helps with providing natural daylight and views into the enclosed space.

  • Sound control: When an operable wall is closed, it suggests that the people inside of the space need or desire some sound separation from the adjacent spaces. Sound transfer can be tested and measured on all operable glass doors to determine sound transmission class (STC) ratings and outdoor/indoor transmission class (OITC) ratings. Independent tests conducted on operable glass walls have shown results of an STC of 36 and OITC of 30, which are favorable for many indoor environments and better than some fixed glass partitions.

  • Privacy: Focused meetings or private conversation often need the privacy of good sound control and sometimes visual control. Operable glass walls can be specified to achieve such desired levels and maintain the needed privacy when the doors are closed.

Overall, with no floor track required, operable glass walls allow for uninterrupted transitions between interior spaces. When the wall is closed, the beauty of an all glass aesthetic is realized with the added benefits of acoustical sound privacy and the potential for views and shared light.

Operable glass walls provide the flexibility of opening spaces up to each other (as shown on the left) or separating spaces (as shown on the right) to create privacy and sound isolation without sacrificing light and visual connectivity.

Photos courtesy of NanaWall Systems

Operable glass walls provide the flexibility of opening spaces up to each other (as shown on the left) or separating spaces (as shown on the right) to create privacy and sound isolation without sacrificing light and visual connectivity.

Ornamental Metalwork

A somewhat common but well-established interior product is found in ornamental metals. Sometimes thought of for high-end HVAC grille covers for air vents and supply or return registers, it is also being used innovatively for aesthetically exciting solutions to some interior design challenges. For example, perforated or artistically fabricated grilles can be used for nonstructural infill panels for featured locations, such as staircase risers and railings, door panel inserts, bedroom headboards, lighting, room dividers, decorative screens, and artistic accents. Modern manufacturing and fabrication techniques mean that there is very little that can’t be created from architectural and ornamental metalwork. Used creatively, it can transform a commercial or residential project from ordinary to extraordinary by adding an element of luxury and sophistication.

With these attributes in mind, it is easy to see why innovative interiors can include at least one element of metal as part of an overall design. Whether used to complement existing materials or as a contrasting design feature, custom metalwork provides an architectural design accent with great durability for functionality. Further, since most metals are easily and readily recycled, they are a good fit for green buildings and sustainable design programs.

Architectural and ornamental metalwork is available in a variety of base materials, such as brass, bronze, aluminum, and stainless steel. The metal can be finished in a variety of appearances from traditional looks for historic reproductions in building restorations or with modern, sleek finishes that fit into more contemporary buildings. Beyond standard offerings, manufacturers and fabricators are able to readily create custom metal products that give architects and designers more design options to present to clients and build into an overall design scheme. Because there are so many choices available, the final design can be developed to fit within defined price points, thus keeping within budget while adding a high-end design feature.

Kenneth Nilson, a custom metalwork artist in Brooklyn, New York, comments about working with a national ornamental metal company by noting, “They will work with just about any metal and have a sense of adventure to try new things with great respect for design professionals. They roll and bend and weld just about anything that is beyond my capabilities, such as custom counter tops, large cylinders (for end tables), and their signature grilles, which I adapt for fire pits and fireplaces. My company and my work have grown due in a large part to the support from this company.” Stephen Giumenta is co-owner and design engineer at Architectural Grille, a custom fabrication company located in Brooklyn. He responds by pointing out, “Innovation does not exclusively reference new technology—architects and designers are now being innovative by using custom pieces in ways outside of so-called ‘accepted’ design parameters. Spaces change when looking through perforated grilles, which are essentially patterns cut into a solid piece of metal. We enjoy creating unique ornamental metalwork by helping the designer tell their story through scale and thickness, resulting in a functional piece of art.”

Three photos of ornamental metalwork.

From left: Photos courtesy of ARCHITECTURAL GRILLE; Marco Ricco; Kenneth Nilson

Ornamental metal is being used in innovative interiors to create sophisticated touches by creatively incorporating it into such things as stair risers, bedroom headboard walls, and even custom lighting fixtures.

 

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Originally published in Architectural Record

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