Fantastically Flexible

Interior glass systems: meeting the need for adaptable, optimized space utilization
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Sponsored by Space Plus, a division of The Sliding Door Company

Moving Forward

Whether it’s via integrated design, modular planning, multiuse designs, or all of the above, flexibility and adaptability are hands down essential in today’s commercial buildings.

“It’s incredibly important,” Lubin asserts. “Flexibility paired with embedded technology enables the built environment to adapt to support a company’s business drivers as they change—sometimes overnight.”

Amongst the products most ideal to support these needs, interior glass doors—not to mention sliders, stationary panels, swing doors, barn doors, and pass through windows—can help deliver the high level of adaptability that is essential in today’s commercial buildings.

Modular Planning and Walk Decks from the 1970s

Documenting the inefficiencies created by improper planning and coordination, an eye-opening, unpublished survey tucked away in the U.S. Veteran Administration’s archives, studied facility changes in 10 private hospitals and 10 VA hospitals in the early 1970s.

As reported in the VA Hospital Building System Research Study Report, subsequently updated in 2006, approximately five times the original construction cost was spent on major acute care facility renovations over a typical lifespan of 50 years.

In addition to these astronomical costs, these hospitals have suffered from significant downtime and disruptions in patient care, while the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems have undergone updates and design changes.

Utilizing the survey as a jumping point, the main point of the study lays out some seminal building planning strategies, such as integrated building systems, which are very much in use today.

For example, by utilizing modular planning—where each module is set up with the same organizing principles and ideally, its own utilities—an individual module can ultimately be shut down to upgrade services with minimal disruption of building ongoing operations.

Similarly, the report recommended organizing utility operations in defined vertical and horizontal zones, and building in the infrastructure for future needs. For instance, including a zone for a return air duct even though the current design only requires initially an exhaust system.

Another noted recommendation was separating clinical and other functions from utility distribution with a walk-deck ceiling system. This way, any fixes or upgrades can be easily accomplished up in the deck with no disruption to the spaces below.

Culling more valuable recommendations from the VA study, the ongoing process of churn in hospital environments can be further mitigated by identifying permanent versus adaptable elements and designing the permanent elements for the longest possible range of use. For example, oversizing air trunk ducts so that they don’t have to be ripped out if the air supply needs to be increased in the future.

Yet another best practice, minimizing structural constraints by providing a long-span structure in at least one dimension, provides flexibility in functional plan layouts and accommodates future changes without interference from columns or shear walls. Along these lines, the report also recommends designing floor loading to accommodate a reasonable range of functions in each building module.

Putting this all into practice, the VA awarded a contract to four design firms to apply these research findings to the design and construction of 500-bed VA Loma Linda Healthcare System facility in Southern California.

By employing strategies such as an integrated building system process, modular planning, and the incorporation of a walk-deck ceiling system, the building was completed six months faster than a conventional project with substantial cost reductions for a number of building components, including the mechanical systems and interior partitions. Change orders were reduced to almost none, patient and workflow disruption was reduced substantially, and the ability to support future changes was enhanced greatly.


Space Plus, a division of The Sliding Door Company, offers transformative work spaces from our own factory, including sliding dividers, partitions, pocket doors, swing doors, stationary walls, loft dividers, and closet doors. Products are recyclable, durable, and thoughtfully designed with functionality in mind.


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Originally published in Architectural Record