Closing the gap

Acoustic and fire safety standards must be adapted to meet modern product requirements, argues Kye Edwards of partitioning firm Ocula Systems.

Commercial working spaces seem to be continually evolving and numer- ous workplace studies have been carried out to assess the advantages and disadvantages of individual working spaces versus open planning. Not surprisingly however, the results cast no clear winner – the environment simply works best when it complements and enhances an organisa- tion’s specific needs and requirements.

The workplace partitioning and doors market has reacted well to the changing demands for a more flexible and transient environment and there’s now a plethora of product choice for specifiers. It’s this amount of choice that has enabled clients to truly personalise a working environment to cater for a specific organisation’s needs and the space it occupies.

Standards in sync

Finding the right product is no longer the main problem, but specifying partitioning

can be complex in projects with an enhanced focus on acoustics and fire protection. While the industry has flour- ished, bringing a vast product choice to the market, the statutory requirements have lagged behind and it is vital that standards are adapted to these new technological developments.

For example, manufacturers test their products to technical acoustic standards and try to simplify the results for the clients. However, it’s generally acknowl- edged that the test results do not always reflect how the product will be used, so more detail and clarity is required within the standards to address that complexity.

The standards need to be more prescrip- tive in specifying what should be tested in order to represent what is physically installed on site, such as the number of joints or modules and whether the doors are tested in a screen or independently. It is vital that the standards are not open to interpretation and that’s why Ocula is

working with the Finishes & Interiors Sector Association to agree an effective and consistent measure.

The outcome of this collaboration is seeking to identify a standardised solution that would not be misrepresented, would give manufacturers a ‘level playing field’ and would convince suppliers and installers. We are hopeful this will influence future industry standards and reduce confusion for buyers and specifiers in this market.

Trends

A client needs to feel confident that the product design is not only aesthetically pleasing and to the brief, but will also perform acoustically. Products are available for any application, and their performance is consistently measured and presented. This is the case whether they are single or double-glazed partitions for acoustic separation, or timber-framed systems reflecting a high-end opulent warmth, bespoke printed glass for privacy or fire-rated glass for escape routes.

There’s also a great choice of products designed to enable ease of installation and personalisation of an area. One of the most recent trends follows the industrial theme of Crittall-style glazing with a dramatic banded design. There’s also more choice in door opening systems, such as acoustic sliding doors that offer a better use of space within a room, as well as LED lighting solutions that provide added privacy through switchable glass that becomes opaque at the touch of a button. Consideration is given to make all these systems easily relocatable and modular in design, to assist in providing a flexible workplace.

Kye Edwards is business development director of Ocula Systems