Modularity is the key to matching up a compelling workplace experience with architecture to respond to changing future business needs. It is a tool that can amplify long-term flexibility, and provide a framework for a broad spectrum of design solutions while utilizing a limited kit-of-parts.
One of the most important aspects requires the designer to think of all the physical aspects of the workplace as systems that should be modular, not just with themselves, but with each other. This mindset will enable the concept to permeate to all building systems rather than be limited to a planning framework.
The simplest construct is to think of modularity in terms of five foundational systems or broad categories. In the best application, all these systems work together to provide an infinitely, flexible framework of workspaces. Space can be assigned or unassigned. Open or closed. Big or small. Private and public. Simple or complex. Grow or shrink. All of a client’s objectives can be met within this flexible framework. It will allow the space to accommodate physical change and respond to business needs that ultimately change over time—oftentimes in ways neither the designer nor business can predict.
The Five Foundational Systems are
The Planning Grid sets the framework. 1X, 2X, 4X planning (The Rule of Doubling) allows universal planning within rule-based parameters.
Ceiling and floor systems often house the most complicated building systems—power and data; lighting and life safety; air and plumbing. These are expensive and cumbersome to move or reconfigure. Think of ceiling and floor systems as fixed in a way that can work for all spaces whether open or closed, large or small. Build it once and never touch it again.
Wall and furniture systems are simpler and will be the actual physical manifestation of change. This is where a concept of a simple kit-of-parts is invaluable. Offices can change in size or in some cases go away all together. Space can go from closed to open and back again. Think about each system in terms of what would allow the most flexibility with the least number of parts.
The goal of modularity is flexibility; however, modularity should create options while being minimalistic. For example, demountable wall systems can be moved and reconfigured in a number of ways, but a client might not think one solid floor-to-ceiling panel will serve all purposes. It might be necessary to have a demountable wall in a solid panel and a glass panel, or to have a combination of narrow and wide panels, or panels with a door. We have a few options, but is there only one option that is the simplest to allow for flexibility?
True flexibility grows from a strict adherence to the principles of modularity. While a planning grid is the foundation of this concept, the application of modularity to the physical reality of ceilings, walls, and floors is what differentiates true flexibility— the ability to achieve rapid, physical change and low cost with little disruption—from simple planning logic.
Larry’s thirty-plus year career in workplace design is the foundation for his deep knowledge of effective work environments. As a Principal with PDR, he has led teams in the design of new large-scale buildings, development of campuses, learning environments and corporate relocations.