Raised Access Floors: The Answer to the Open Building Design Question

18 January 2022 Tate
“The Open Building approach is a mode of design and decision-making rooted in the historical traditions of a sustainable built environment, constantly undergoing incremental renewal. It is uniquely suited to the challenges of 21st century built environment.” —Council on Open Buildings
Santa Monica High School Discovery Building

The Open Building approach to architecture asks the question, “How do we design buildings when decisions about uses and their floor plans are not known, and are usually decided by someone other than the building’s architect, and will inevitably change?” To answer that question, Open Building architecture puts an emphasis on increasing the flexibility, variety and quality of a space. It highlights the idea of choice and personalization in everyday use and has been applied to a variety of commercial and residential buildings across a wide range of industries. Historically, it’s been most often seen in commercial offices and retail, but it’s expanding to more healthcare, residential and educational facilities as traditional ideologies are being challenged in favor of Open Buildings. The major element of this concept is that human activities are constantly changing, so buildings need to adapt to meet the needs of occupants. Planners, architects, engineers and developers should work together to think critically about the long-term use of buildings while they’re in the early planning stages and design the building accordingly. At Tate, we’re no strangers to flexibility in the built environment. Raised access floors provide ultimate flexibility benefits to a building, which is why it’s a perfect fit for the Open Building design approach.  
 
Raised access floors with Underfloor Service Distribution provide unlimited configuration options for your building. By routing modular plug-and-play power and low voltage cabling under the floor instead of in the walls or ceiling, like you would find in a traditional pipe and wire distribution system with fixed terminations, you are no longer limited by the static placement of these services. Rearrange the space as often as you’d like by lifting the floor panels and rerouting the services to any point on the floor plate. As the needs of your building change, new technology is introduced or employment populations evolve, you can quickly and easily reconfigure the space to accommodate those needs. Incorporating access floors further allows you to implement Underfloor Air Distribution (UFAD), a design strategy that maximizes the adaptability of your HVAC system. UFAD gives occupants more control over their personal airflow, increasing employee comfort and improving the building’s indoor air quality and sustainability long term. When the building is eventually repurposed, the floors and underfloor services will remain in place with the building shell. With minimal changes required from one occupant to the other, you can save time and money and create a more adaptable space that can easily transform to accommodate the next tenant’s needs. It takes the basic principle of the Open Building model—that buildings should be designed to adapt with the changing needs of its occupants—and brings it to life.

Santa Monica High School
Education is just one example of an industry that can benefit from Open Building design. But how do we design a building today that will still work for the education of the future? It’s a tall order since educational strategies and technologies are constantly and rapidly changing, making it hard to predict the needs of future educators and students. It would be like someone in 1922 building a school and knowing to plan for iPads, WiFi and Smartboards. It seems almost impossible, but that’s where the Open Building concept comes in. The new Santa Monica High School Discovery Building was built with the intention that it would meet the learning needs of its students for the next century. The designers of this building utilized raised flooring with Underfloor Service Distribution for all the classroom and educational spaces. Additionally, none of the classroom walls are structure supporting, so they can be removed or relocated easily to reconfigure the learning spaces. So, while architects and designers can’t predict what education will look like in 2122, they can design the building to be adaptable and flexible for whatever changes may come.
 
“Education is changing so dramatically that we needed the opportunity to be able to shift and change the building over time,” said Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton. “The building is built to be flexible and is built to adjust, and that’s part of what the genius of the building is.” —Santa Monica Daily Press
 
The Open Building concept is by no means a new approach to design. It’s been around for ages, but its benefits are being applied to more industries and new types of buildings, which is a huge win for the occupants of these spaces. Raised access floors and Underfloor Service Distribution can make the ideas of Open Buildings a reality. The system prioritizes flexibility and futureproofing a space, which is the key to the Open Building concept. If you’re planning to incorporate Open Building design into a new space, email us at info@tateinc.com or call us at 1-800-231-7788 to get started.

Photography: Inessa Binenbaum

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