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One of the most fundamental construction elements in interior design and architecture is the permanent vertical barrier. Although commonly called a wall or partition the designer should think of this construction element as a vertical barrier during preliminary design. Thinking of this element as a barrier focuses attention on the important qualities that the element must have to meet both the aesthetic and functional requirements of the problem. Then, the designer can apply the techniques and materials necessary to meet the requirements within the given conditions of the problem.

In most cases, exterior walls, columns, and overall ceiling height are beyond the designer's control. However, vertical design elements, such as partitions, are one of the major elements that interior designers can control and use to define space and modulate the appearance of interiors. They are often an underutilized design element. Although exterior walls, window placement, interior bearing walls, columns, and beams may suggest how the division of interior space should be created, nonbearing vertical barriers can be placed anywhere as long as they satisfy the program and meet regulatory requirements.

Vertical barriers may be used to divide one space into two or more smaller spaces, to define space with one or more barriers, to block vision from one area to another, to stop the transmission of sound, to provide a fire barrier, to provide support for a decorative surface, or any combination of these functions.

This section discusses the use of barriers that are permanent in that they are firmly attached to the substrates of the building and are intended to remain in position throughout the life of the space. Refer to Section 6 for movable or temporary types of vertical barriers that may be repositioned as the needs of the users change.


Vertical barriers can be created in an almost unlimited number of ways. Surfaces can range from simple flat planes with applied finish to complex constructions holding storage elements and electrical services. Barriers can be solid, translucent, clear, or a combination of visual transparencies. They can be straight, curved, angled, full-height, or partial height. Even when limited by constraints such as fire resistance or security, partitions can take on a wide range of con figurations.

ill. 1 shows some of the many ways permanent vertical barriers may be designed.

Although there are several methods of categorizing them and countless possible variations, they are grouped here as planar, panelized, openings, translucent, partial height, and thick.

These illustrations show some of the basic ways a barrier can be designed without regard to a specific material or detailing method. They are discussed in more detail in the sections that follow.


Permanent partitions generally serve a variety of functions. Most fundamental is dividing one use of space from another and creating a visual and physical barrier. The common response to these needs is usually a standard gypsum wallboard partition. However, by first thinking through all the specific functions that a barrier must serve, the designer can make a better choice of materials and detailing than simply relying on gypsum wallboard to serve all needs.

Permanent partitions generally provide one or more of the following functions:

Defining space Suggesting limits on travel Controlling physical passage Creating security Controlling vision Controlling light Controlling sound Limiting the spread of fire and smoke Limiting radiation Supporting shelving and other fixtures Providing support for art or decorative work If, E.g., a vertical barrier is intended to suggest limits on travel and define space, the corresponding physical response to these needs could be a standard gypsum wallboard partition or as simple as a fabric suspended from the ceiling or a freestanding screen as long as fire resistive requirements were met. Only when additional functions are defined would the material or physical con figuration of the barrier need to be modified.

ill. 1 Vertical barrier concepts planar panelized openings translucent partial height thick

Tbl. 1 Fire-Resistive Tests Applicable to Permanent Partitions Test Number Test Name Description ASTM E84 Standard Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials (also called the Steiner Tunnel Test) Tests a finish material for flame spread and smoke developed ASTM E119 Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials This is the standard test for fire resistance of building assemblies, such as partitions ASTM E136 Test Method for Behavior of Materials in a Vertical Tube Furnace at 750?C This is the test for the noncombustibility of elementary materials NFPA 258 Recommended Practice for Determining Smoke Generation of Solid Materials Evaluates the specific optical density of the smoke developed from flaming and non flaming materials and assemblies NFPA 265 Method of Fire Tests for Evaluating Room Fire Growth Contribution of Textile Wall Coverings on Full Height Panels and Walls (also called the Room Corner Test for Textile Wall Coverings) Evaluates the contribution of textile wall finish to fire growth in full-scale mockup NFPA 286 Standard Methods of Fire Test for Evaluating Contribution of Wall and Ceiling Interior Finish to Room Fire Growth (also called the Room Corner Test) Evaluates the extent to which wall and ceiling finishes (other than textiles) contributes to fire growth


For permanent partitions, constraints generally include the existing building floor and ceiling substrates, building code requirements of noncombustibility, fire resistance, and flame spread, budget, and material availability.

Floor and ceiling substrates may have implications for how the partition can be fastened and the distance between the floor and ceiling or structure may suggest the type and size of partition materials to span the distance.

For commercial construction, most finish materials meet flame-spread requirements for use in spaces other than exit enclosures, exit passageways, or corridors. However, the use of fabrics and plastics may be problematic. Specific tested flame-spread ratings for individual material must be verified for a given use. Refer to Tbl. 1 for a summary of fire-resistive related tests that may apply to permanent partitions.

Finish materials for commercial construction must be Class A, B, or C, based on the occupancy group, where they are used in a building, and whether the building has a sprinkler system or not. These requirements are given in Table 803.5 of the IBC.

Tbl. 2 Standard Industry Tolerances for Floors Floor Type Tolerance Source Slab-on-grade elevation from theoretical elevation plane ±3/4 in. (19 mm) ACI 117a Slab-on-grade flatness, conventional, 90% compliance ±1/2 in. (13 mm) ACI 117 moderately flat, 90% compliance ±3/8 in. (10 mm) ACI 117 flat, 90% compliance ±1/4 in. (6 mm) ACI 117 Wood floor framing, perpendicular to joists ±1/2 in. in 20 ft. (13 mm in 6100 mm) Residential Performance Guidelines


Vertical barriers must always be coordinated with ceiling and floor conditions for attachment, base conditions, tolerances, and structural support. In addition, permanent partitions may also contain electrical and communication services, plumbing pipes, and blocking for architectural woodwork, artwork, electronics, or other wall-supported items.

See Section 10 for more ideas on ceiling and floor connections.

Tolerance Coordination

Construction tolerances can affect the installation of permanent partitions in several ways.

Most notably, the floors of commercial buildings and many residential buildings are not level.

Concrete slabs poured on metal decking are especially troublesome, sometimes deflecting as much as 1-1/2 in. (38 mm) in the center of the span. Although studs and gypsum wallboard can be cut to fit the variations, out-of-level floors are problematic when rigid wall materials, such as glass, metal panels, cabinets, or premanufactured finishes, are installed. Out-of-level floors also create problems with the application of some bases.

Refer to Tbl. 2 for some of the industry standard tolerances for floors that should be expected and considered in detailing.

When levelness is critical to the application of interior construction, high spots in concrete floors can be ground down and low spots filled with leveling compound within structural limits for adding extra dead load to the floor. Access flooring can also be used to deal with out-of-level floors, while providing space for mechanical, electrical, and communication services.

ill. 2 Types of planar barriers (a) flat (b) applied texture (c) raised face (d) relief face.

A flat wall with an applied base is the most common type of partition. It’s easy to build, inexpensive, and provides a good base for a wide variety of smooth interior finishes. Most commonly, such partitions are gypsum wallboard applied to wood or metal studs. They can also be constructed of veneer plaster, solid plaster on metal lath, or concrete masonry units.

Applied texture partitions are a variation of the simple flat partition but with a deep texture applied. The texture may be part of the finish material, such as textured plaster, or be a separate manufactured product that is applied or attached to the base partition. With this type of partition, the functional requirements of security, fire resistance, and sound attenuation can be accomplished with the base partition, while the applied texture is mainly decorative.

A raised face partition is used to give depth to an otherwise flat wall or to serve a functional reason, such as an applied acoustical panel. The raised face may be constructed of something as simple as an additional layer of gypsum wallboard or be a separate material, such as a fabric, wood, or metal panel. The panels can be the same size applied symmetrically or be different sizes in an irregular pattern.

A relief face partition serves similar purposes to a raised face partition, but the emphasized planes are below the plane of the main partition surface. These types of partitions are typically more expensive and difficult to construct because two or more layers of finish material must be constructed to provide the effect. E.g., if constructed of gypsum wallboard, one complete layer of wallboard must be attached to the framing with the second layer cut, fit, and trimmed to provide the finish layer.


Although there are many ways to detail the conceptual ideas shown in ill. 1, the sketches shown in this section provide useful starting points.



A flat partition is the simplest method of dividing space. It’s easy and inexpensive to build and can accommodate a variety of finishes. The most common construction is gypsum wallboard on metal or wood studs, either built to the structure above or to the underside of a suspended ceiling for commercial construction or to the ceiling plane in residential construction. See ill. 2(a).


Texture can be applied to a flat surface directly, as with paint, plaster, or other coatings, or as a separate finish, glued or screwed to the substrate. Tbl. 3 lists some of the many manufacturers that supply such textures. Consult individual manufacturers for the recommended method of application. Applied textures are useful when the base structural partition is needed for acoustic, security, or fire-resistive reasons but a more decorative surface is needed. If they are applied as a separate construction element with easily removable connections, applied textures can be replaced if they become dirty or damaged or if a change is wanted, without affecting the integrity of the supporting partition.


Specialty Wall Finish and Accessory Manufacturers

Manufacturer Web Site | Comments | Applied textures

Architectural Systems, Inc. www.archsystems.com Carved, woven, and embossed wood panels made with sustainable materials Brush www.robin-reigi.com Clay Solutions custom-formed panels of solid surfacing materials, solid or translucent Ceilings Plus www.ceilingsplus.com Metal wall panel wall systems Forms + Surfaces www.forms-surfaces.com Wide variety of metal panels in various finishes and surface patterns and textures Fry Reglet www.fryreglet.com 24 in. × 24 in. standard and custom panels of steel, aluminum, wood, glass, laminate on grid attached to gypsum wallboard: www.gagecorp.net. Cast metal surfacing mastic applied or mounted with Z-clips or rail system Interlam www.interlam-design.com. Wide variety of textured panels on sustainable core material Rimex Group www.rimexmetals.com; Colored and patterned stainless steel Illuminated panels; Evonik Industries www.acrylite-magic.com; Acrylite brand edge lighted acrylic sheet for signage and wall panels; Green American Lighting, Inc. www.greenamericalighting.com; Thin wall and floor panels up to 5 ft × 10 ft edge illuminated with LEDs in white and colors; Gypsum wallboard trim Fry Reglet www.fryreglet.com Aluminum trim pieces Gordon Grid www.gordongrid.com Aluminum trim pieces Plastic Components, Inc. www.plasticcomponents.com PVC trim pieces Trim-tex www.trim-tex.com Vinyl trim pieces Superior Metal Trim www.superiormetaltrim.com Steel, aluminum, zinc trim pieces Woven wire fabric Cascade Coil Drapery www.cascadecoil.com Suspended wire mesh or mesh in fixed framing Gage Woven www.gagecorp.net Variety of metal products, including architectural wire mesh GKD www.gkdusa.com Wide variety of products including mesh with integrated LED lighting Gordon Grid www.gordongrid.com Mesh with trim applied to gypsum wallboard with standard or custom painted finishes Architectural mesh Baker "Millennium" www.bakermetal.com Wall and ceiling panel system Cambridge Architectural Mesh www.architgecturalmesh.com Wide variety of woven wire and mesh products GKD Metal Fabrics www.gkdmetalfabrics.com Wide variety of woven wire and mesh products McNichols Co. www.mcnichols.com Woven wire mesh, perforated metal Standoffs Doug Mockett and Company www.mockett.com Standoffs and other hardware for furniture Gyford Productions LLC. www.standoffsystems.com Wide variety of standoff shapes and sizes for wall and ceiling mounting Mogg www.mogg.com Manufacturers of stainless steel standoffs Nova Display www.novadisplay.com Cable rail systems and standoffs for sign mounting Wilson Glass www.wilsonglass.com Square and round standoffs for glass mounting Flex-ability Concepts www. flex.com Runner track that can be curved for vertical or horizontal curved partitions


ill. 3 Methods of creating raised faces metal or wood stud wallboard trim gypsum wallboard gypsum wallboard gypsum wallboard J-runner aluminum radius trim wood trim toggle bolt or blocking standoff decorative cap nut wood or metal furring blocking wallboard trim

(a) wallboard with trim (b) wallboard on studs (c) woodwork panel on clips (d) wallboard on furring (e) wallboard with radius trim (f) panel using standoffs Z-clips wood panel blocking optional


ill. 4 Gypsum wallboard trims (a) L-trim (b) J-trim (c) beveled trim (d) step trim joint compound joint compound W-trim joint compound over trim joint compound over trim; trim screwed through wallboard to stud J-trim bevel trim steel, aluminum, or plastic trim

- ill. 5 Methods of creating relief faces (b) moderate relief with varying metal studs (b) shallow relief with L-angle (c) moderate relief with varying wood studs (e) shallow relief with aluminum infill (d) deep relief with double wall



A raised face effect, as shown in ill. 2(c), can be created in a number of ways, from the direct application of a thin panel to the construction of a separate element with substantial thickness. Because the construction element used to create the raised face must be attached to a substrate strong enough to support it, gypsum wallboard partitions are typically used.

ill. 3 shows some of the methods of creating a raised face, assuming a base partition of studs and gypsum wallboard. Some of the products used as applied textures can also be limited to discrete areas to give the impression of a raised face. As with applied textures, if a suitable connection detail is used, such as Z-clips, the finish face can be easily replaced when necessary.

When the raised face is a simple application of one or two layers of wallboard, various trims can be used to finish the edges, as shown in ill. 4. However, this type of installation results in more damage if the finish needs to be replaced. Refer to Tbl. 3 for a listing of some manufacturers of wallboard trim.


ill. 6 Types of panelized barriers (a) horizontal reveal (b) vertical reveal (c) overlapping planes (d) shelving wall; Panalized partitions are used to reduce the scale of large expanses of partitions, to emphasize horizontal line, to make construction easier, to enable different sections of the same wall to be finished with different materials, and to make it easier to install and replace sections of the same partition, among others. A panelized partition can literally be made up of separate panels hung on the substrate with clips or other fasteners or the illusion of separate panels can be created with reveals or other materials that separate the individual portions of the finished surface.

Vertical panels are often used when the panels are separate pieces of construction, like wood paneling, and are attached to the partition. Although some paneling can be butted together, a reveal conceals any small imperfections in alignment and adds a shadow line to emphasize the paneling effect. The surface of the panels may be in the same plane as the base or be in front of or behind the base.

Overlapping planes add depth and texture to a normally planar partition, depending on the thickness of the panels and how much they are held away from the main portion of the partition.

Any number of panels and overlaps may be developed, depending on the effect desired and the budget.

A shelving wall can be thought of as a collection of one or more three-dimensional panels. Shelving can be open on the sides and top but an enclosed grouping, as shown on the right of the diagram, emphasizes the panelized nature more effectively.


ill. 7 Methods of creating reveals (a) reveal trim (b) wood trim (c) metal angles (d) mfg. trim (e) Z-clips varies joint compound reveal needs finishing wood or other panel manufacturer's standard trim approx. 1/8" (3)


ill. 8 Wall-supported overlapping planes 3/8" (10) as required metal standoff decorative cap spacing washers as required surface applied panel, size and position as shown on elevation plastic laminate on 3/4" (19) MDF or other solid panel type as designed; kerf bottom of panel edge support standoffs may be used alone without jamb struts if panels are lightweight or translucent base as scheduled toggle bolt, molly anchor, or wood blocking as needed for standoff wallboard trim 2 1/2" (64) 20 ga. jamb struts cut 1/2" (13) short of each end, finish panel edges to conceal.


ill. 9 Ceiling-suspended overlapping planes ceiling cable, cable suspension fitting cable suspended gripper or continuous metal channel support grid anchored to structure above solid, translucent, or clear panel; length, width, and position as designed continuous channel or cable stabilizing fitting anchored to floor base as scheduled wallboard trim threaded rod



Relief faces, those indented from the main surface of the partition, can be created by using some of the same techniques as raised faces, only in the opposite direction. Shallow reliefs can be formed with gypsum wallboard trim, as shown in ill. 5(a), (b), and (c). Deeper reliefs may need a double-wall construction similar to ill. 5(d). Reliefs may be framed on four sides for a picture-frame effect or may run full height, from floor to ceiling as a type of reverse panel. Reliefs are useful for highlighting or emphasizing a wall-hung element or as a way of creating a large-scale textured effect on a large expanse of partition.

When shallow reliefs are created, it usually requires a double or triple layer of wallboard, which is costly for the effect achieved. For smaller reliefs, one manufacturer makes a trim piece that accepts an aluminum panel infill so a double layer of wallboard is not necessary.

This is sufficient if the partition does not have to have a fire rating or a high acoustical attenuation rating. When using different depths of studs verify that any required fire rating is not compromised by reducing the overall thickness of the partition.


Panelized partitions are those that are comprised of several visually distinct areas.


Horizontal reveals are used for a variety of reasons. In addition to aesthetic reasons, reveals are a good method to accommodate imperfections in construction when placing one material next to another because the reveal space conceals slight imperfections in alignment or abutment.

Reveals may be detailed as with a raised face shown in ill. 4 or more simply with preformed reveal profiles. When preformed reveals for standard L-angle trim are used the edge extends about 1/8 in. (3 mm) beyond the thickness of the gypsum wallboard. This usually is not a concern with reveals but may be important when trying to detail a trimmed piece of wallboard to be flush with another material, such as woodwork, stone, or a doorframe. Most of the pre-manufactured reveals are designed for use with gypsum wallboard, but metal angles or wood trim can be also be used for other materials.. Wood trim must be sized to allow for attachment with screws or brads to avoid splitting the wood. Lightweight materials adhesively applied to a substrate may only require a manufacturer's supplied trim or a metal angle,. Separate panels hung on Z-clips can create their own reveals.


Vertical reveals are used for many of the same reasons as horizontal reveals but mainly to emphasize joints between panels hung on a partition. As with horizontal reveals, the gap between panels allows some imperfection in alignment that is not possible with tightly fit butt joints. Individual panels are also useful in situations where abuse is likely-one panel can be re finished or replaced without the need to replace or re finish an entire wall.


Overlapping planes, shown in ill. 6(c) are generally created for strictly aesthetic reasons to add depth and interest to a vertical plane. However, the outermost plane may have a functional purpose such as signage or informational displays. Any number and shape of planes may be placed over the basic substrate partition to create a variety of effects. The overlapping planes may be opaque, translucent, or transparent. Translucent or transparent planes may have lighting effects behind.

Two methods of detailing overlapping planes are shown in ill.8 and 9. In ill. 8 the standoff panel is supported with a standard jamb strut used in wallboard framing. This is a useful method when the panel is heavy. With lighter panels, square or round metal standoffs may be used screwed into wood blocking or attached with molly anchors. Refer to Tbl. 3 for some standoff manufacturers. ill. 9 illustrates one method of suspending overlapping panels. In this case, the panels may be any type of thin panel such as glass, plastic (if allowed by the local building code), particle board, or acoustic panels.


When used in mass or as a tight grouping, shelving can take on the appearance of a thick, three-dimensional, textured panel. Shelving can be grouped horizontally, vertically, or as a separate patch to create different effects. Unlike thin panels, shelving adds the extra constraint of weight so that both the substrate partition and the shelving and its attachments must accommodate this.

Shelving can be attached to standards securely anchored to the partition, set on brackets also anchored to the wall, or constructed as separate units and hung on the partition with Z-clips or other types of anchors.

-- Tbl. 4 Approximate Load Capacity of Common Fasteners for Interior Use Approximate Range of Working Load Values in Shear and Tension, lbs. (N) a Application 1/2_ ++ GWB only 5/8_ ++ GWB only GWB w/ 25 ga. studs GWB w/ 20 ga. studs fastener type and size Shear Tension Shear Tension Shear Tension Shear Tension wood screws in wood studs or backing, 1 in. (25 mm) penetration 110 (490) 110 (490) metal screws through GWB into metal studs 25-100 (111-445) 15-60 (67-267) 34-135 (151-600) 20-85 (89-378) anchor screws 60 (300) 20(100) 90 (400) 35 (200) nylon wall drillers 18-38 (80-170) 10-15 (45-67) 25-50 (111-222) 12-23 (53-102) hollow wall anchors 40-45 (178-200) 20-36 (89-160) molly bolts 1/8 in. (3.2) 43 (191) 38 (169) 50 (222) 40 (178) 100 (445) 70 (311) 3/16 in. (4.8) 45 (200) 45 (200) 53 (236) 48 (213) 125 (556) 80 (356) 1/4 in. (6.4) 50 (222) 50 (222) 55 (245) 55 (245) 175 (778) 155 (689) toggle bolts 1/8 in. (3.2) 40-50 (178-222) 20-50 (89-222) 66 (294) 63 (280) 3/16 in. (4.8) 50-70 (222-311) 30-60 (150-300) 88 (391) 79 (351) 1/4 in. (6.4) 60-90 (267-400) 40-75 (178-334) 96 (427) 88 (391) Toggler system 1/4 in. (6.4) (BB) 60 (300) 66 (294) 81 (360) 90 (400) 81 (360) 116 (516) 3/8 in. (9.5) (BC) 73 (325) - 100 (445) 144 (640) 100 (445) 122 (543)


ill. 10 Barriers with openings (a) single opening (b) window wall (c) high opening (d) peek holes

A single opening in a barrier is generally used for strictly functional reasons, such as a pass-through, specific visual communication between the spaces, or as a way to allow people to see the activity in the next room. The opening may be left open or be glazed if acoustical separation is needed or if the partition must have a fire-resistance rating. The size of the opening defines the degree of separation that the partition has.

Window wall openings maximize the amount of open area in a partition while still dividing a space and directing movement.

In most cases, the openings are filled with glazing to reduce sound transmission or prevent entry, but may be left open.

The edges of the openings may be covered with the same material as the partition or wood or other type of trim may be used. Refer to Section 9 on glazing for other options.

High openings provide visual privacy while allowing light to pass from one space to the next and to make a space appear more open. A variation of the concept shown here is to eliminate the framing at the top of the opening to let the ceiling pass uninterrupted from one space to the next. A thin metal channel can be used to frame the glazing, if used.

Instead of one or more large openings, many smaller openings can be placed in a wall to break up the view and add a sense of playfullness to the partition. Openings can be located randomly, as shown here, or symmetrically. They can be the same size or a variety of sizes and filled with clear glazing material or translucent material to increase visual privacy. The openings can be made frameless or framed with wood or other materials.

- Tbl. 4 gives the approximate load-carrying capacities of some common fasteners.

However, every manufacturer's product has a unique load capability, so they should be verified when specifying a particular type of fastener. When loading is especially critical, consult a structural engineer for specific recommendations.

The values shown are working values; that is, load-carrying capacities after a factor of safety has been applied. When manufacturers publish load capacities, they often give the ultimate load-carrying value. If this is the case, a safety factor of four should be applied;

that is, divide the rated ultimate load-carrying capacity by 4 to get the actual working load that should be used. For extremely heavy loads a separate structural steel tube, angle, or other shape may need to be bolted to the floor.

Barriers with Openings

Although there is overlap between a glazed partition and interior glazing, the difference in this guide is that a glazed partition is primarily a solid partition with some glazing, while interior glazing is primarily glazing material with framing as required to support it. Refer to Section 9 for a discussion of other types of glazed openings.

Barriers in this category generally include variations of the following types.


A single opening is the classic window-in-a-wall, where there is a much higher percentage of solid partition than glazed opening. The size of the opening may be limited by function, fire rating requirements, or cost. Generally, this type of opening is not used to transmit daylight to interior spaces but to provide functional visual communication. Glazing is held in place with traditional metal or wood framing or some variation of frameless glazing may be used to minimize the appearance of a frame. Refer to Section 9 for framing options.

In most cases glass is used, but the glazing may also be ceramic for fire-resistive partitions, glass unit masonry, or plastic if fire rating requirements permit. The thickness of the glass depends on the size of the glazed area, the allowable deflection, and acoustic requirements.

Except for very small glazed openings, 1/4-in. (6 mm) glass is typically used. Full-height glass panels framed on four sides are typically 1/4 in. (6 mm) to 3/8 in. (10 mm) thick. Refer to Section 9 for recommendations for butt-glazed glass panels supported only at the top and bottom.


A window wall gives the sense of a partition but with large openings for vision and light transmission. It’s useful for bringing daylight deeper into the interior of a space and gives a visual expansion of otherwise small rooms. Safety glazing is required for glass panels next to a door or with the sill lower than 18 in. (457mm) above the floor. In lieu of safety glazing, a crash bar may be used. Refer to Section 9 for more information on safety glazing.

If the partition must have a fire rating, then fire-resistance-rated glazing can be used. This is glass or other glazing material that has been tested according to ASTM E119, including the hose stream test. Fire ratings up to two hours are possible with no limitation on area except that limited by the manufacturer's requirements based on fire testing. Refer to Section 9 for more information on this type of glazing.


High windows are useful for giving a sense of openness and transmitting some daylight, while still providing privacy. If the sill is more than 60 in. (1525 mm) above the floor, standard glass, instead of safety glazing, may be used. Standard wood or metal framing may be used or frameless glazing may be incorporated.


ill. 11 Types of translucent barriers (a) broken planes (b) screen (d) hanging panels (c) linear elements

Translucent barriers are those that are perceived mainly as a defined plane but that allow vision and/or sound transmission.

They clearly define space and direct movement but give a sense of connection between the spaces they separate.

Broken planes are simple to build and, by varying the space between the edges and surfaces of the planes, the amount of separation can be varied as required. Broken planes can be rigid, solid material, such as gypsum wallboard or as simple as wood panels or suspended fabric.

A screen wall can be any uniform, nonsolid material such as a wood lattice, metal rods, or perforated metal. By varying the density of the material used, the amount of separation can be varied. If the spaces are filled with glazing for acoustical control the screen can be a variation of the window wall barrier type.

Screens can be the full height of the ceiling or can be constructed short of the ceiling to make construction easier and allow the ceiling plane to continue over the screen. Screens can also be suspended from the ceiling to simplify construction and allow the flooring material to continue uninterrupted.

Individual linear elements can be used to create a screen effect when the design of the space suggests that type of design element. They can be oriented vertically, horizontally, or at an angle for a more dynamic appearance. The scale can be reduced by developing a basketweave or herringbone pattern.

In most cases, smaller individual elements must be anchored to an intermediate piece of construction before being attached to the floor, wall, or ceiling.

Hanging panels simplify construction of a translucent barrier and allow the flooring material to continue from one space to another, giving a stronger sense of connection between the spaces. The panels may be suspended directly from the ceiling, if appropriate, or can be suspended from an intermediate support, which is, in turn, attached to the ceiling. Panels may be any type of material, including wood, metal, fabric, plastic, or fabric-wrapped panels for acoustical control.


Tbl. 5 Specialty Glazing Materials for Translucent Barriers Manufacturer Web site Comments

Avanti Systems USA www.avantisystemsusa.com Straight and curved glass wall system Berman Glass www.bermanglasseditions.com Cast, textured Evonik Industries www.acrylite-magic.com Wide variety of acrylic sheet products Forms + Surfaces www.forms-surfaces.com Patterned glass for doors, railings, and panels Meltdown Glass www.meltdownglass.com Wide variety of custom kiln-cast glass McGrory Glass, Inc. www.mcgrory-glass.com Laminated, acid-etched, and sandblasted glass Meltdown Glass www.meltdownglass.com Wide variety of custom, kiln-cast glass Nathan Allan Glass Studios, Inc. www.nathanallan.com Textured, colored, cast, and dichroic glass Oldcastle Glass www.oldcastleglass.com Patterned, silk-screened, colored, and rice paper textured glass in their Montage series Polytronix www.polytronix.com Electrochromic glass using polymer dispersed liquid crystal technology Priva-Lite by Saint-Gobain www.sggprivalite.com Electrochromic glass Pulp Studios www.pulpstudio.com Wide variety of specialty glass products, including colored, textured, electrochromic, and laminated glass with wide selection of textures and decorative patterns Glow www.robin-reigi.com "Glow" custom translucent solid surfacing available with LED backlighting Palace of Glass www.palaceofglass.com Stock and custom art glass Saint-Gobain Glass www.saint-gobain-glass.com Embossed, patterned, and colored glass Schneller, Inc www.veritasideas.com Veritas architectural resin panels custom detailed or with manufacturer's aluminum pole system for mounting SmartWall www.insightlighting.com Transparent, translucent, or opaque panels up to 32 ft.^2 (3.0 m^2) edge lit with LEDs, which can change colors Studio Production www.studio-productions.com Scrim fabric for theatrical scrim effects Switch Lite Privacy Glass www.switchlite.com Electrochromic glass; Visual Impact Technologies www.vitglass.com Holographic laminated and patterned glass


ill. 12 Detailing broken planes (a) standard wallboard planes-plan view (b) wallboard planes with wood end caps-plan view (d) ceiling anchoring-section size trim to provide stopping point for base max. 24" (600) stud spacing allow sufficient space for finishing optional change of ceiling material optional change of ceiling material length as designed 3/8" (10) 2" (50) 2" (50) paint reveal black hardwood trim gypsum wallboard on metal or wood studs blocking and shim provide blocking if required provide blocking if required aluminum ceiling trim gypsum wallboard ceiling metal framing as required (c) plan detail 1/4" (6) shim spacious. clg. ceiling section



Multiple, smaller glazed openings, may be used for a variety of reasons. They can reduce the scale of an otherwise large expanse of partition, give a sense of playfulness, transmit light, focus views, eliminate the need for safety glazing if small enough (less than 9 ft.^2 [0.84 m^2 ]), and create patterns to reinforce the design of the space. If the openings are not glazed, the partition can limit and control movement while giving a sense of openness and allowing sound to penetrate spaces.


Translucent barriers are those that define space and limit travel but allow varying amounts of visibility. In addition to glazing, some of the various approaches to creating translucent barriers are shown in ill. 11. The only limit on the types of translucent barriers is the designer's imagination. Common materials can be used in common or uncommon ways or custom, proprietary materials can be used with a variety of installation methods.

With translucent glazing, visibility and light transmission can be allowed while sound transmission is limited. Some of the many possible custom glazing materials are listed in Tbl. 5. With some types of translucent barriers, such as wire mesh, lighting can be used to highlight the barrier while making the space beyond visible or not. This is much the same effect as a theater scrim, where what is beyond the scrim can be made invisible by increasing the light on the scrim and decreasing the light behind the scrim.


Broken planes establish several separate surfaces either in line or in a staggered pattern, as shown in ill. 11(a). Depending on how the planes are arranged, this focuses the view either perpendicular to the plane of the partition or at an angles to the partition. The planes can be closely spaced or with large gaps between to modulate the amount of vision, light, and sound that is transmitted. Some methods of detailing and anchoring broken planes are shown in ill. 12. Broken planes may be constructed of standard partition materials or with sheets of glazing or other panel products mounted in metal channels at the floor and ceiling.


ill. 13 Methods of mounting screen material 1/4" (6 mm) max. 1/2" (13 mm) max.: (e) sliding track (c) suspended (a) frame optional continuous rail standard aluminum frame glazing material leveling compound acoustical ceiling cable or rod gripper clip or continuous channel metal or wood support above ceiling as required by panel weight (b) typical frame section (d) panel support (f) floor track top track options


ill. 13 Methods of mounting screen material (continued) (j) detail section (h) detail isometric (g) cable rail (i) post supported clips can be rotated for horizontal or diagonal shelving manufacturer's standard post and floor plate


ill. 14 Overhead track mounting cover plate support and brace from structure above (a) surface mounted (b) face mounting (c) recessed mounting wood or metal support as required wallboard L-trim gypsum wallboard or acoustical ceiling alternate line of finish



A screen effect can be created with any material that allows some degree of light or sound transmission while modulating vision. A shoji screen, E.g., allows sound and light to pass through while limiting vision. Perforated metal, on the other hand, allows some visibility through the screen but limits light transmission, depending on the percentage of open area.

Screens can be attached to both the floor and ceiling structure or can be held short of the ceiling or floor to simplify construction and allow for variations in the ceiling or floor plane.

Some of the materials that can be used for screens include curtains, woven wire mesh, perforated metal, lattice work, translucent glass or plastic, stretched fabric, or shoji screens.

Generally, these materials tend to be thin and are not self-supporting, so some type of mounting to the structure is necessary. There are typically five different ways to do this.

All of the methods shown rely on the screen-supporting system to be permanently attached to the building structure. Some of the methods, such as post supports, can be modified to be freestanding. The simplest method, uses a frame, much like a window frame, to support the material. This can be accomplished with a partial-height frame as shown or within a full-height partition. A suspended system uses either point supports or a continuous rail.

When the screen must be adjustable, a track system can be used. Sliding track supports may use a top and bottom track or just a top track. For rigid materials, such as glass or plastic, a bottom track or floor-mounted guides are typically required to hold the screen in place. However, continuous bottom tracks can be problematic because they must be shimmed to be level, interrupt the flooring material, pose tripping hazards unless they are completely recessed, and can create accessibility problems if the track is too high.

Using leveling compound to minimize any vertical projections, as shown on the right side of ill. 13(f ), is the preferred method. Most materials can be completely suspended from the ceiling, avoiding these issues, using short floor guides placed out of the way of the tra ffic pattern. Top tracks can be mounted in several different ways, as shown in ill. 14. Consult individual manufactures for exact dimensions and attachment methods.

Cable rail systems provide an airy support system for vertical panels as well as horizontal and diagonal shelving. Some of the manufacturers of cable rail systems for this application are listed in Tbl. 6.

Point supports required for cable rail systems can be problematic for acoustical suspended ceilings because the cable must be stretched tightly, but most manufacturers have methods of attaching the top of the cable directly through ceiling tiles to the structure above.

The methods of mounting screen material with posts are relatively straightforward. As shown in ill. 13(i) and (j), the post is commonly attached to a bottom plate, which is screwed or bolted to the floor. Similar attachments are used at the ceiling, either to a suspended ceiling or continuing through the ceiling to the structure above if the screen material is heavy. Unless the installation is custom, most screen material manufacturers also provide standard post-mounting hardware as part of their system.


Tbl. 6 Cable Rail and Support Manufacturers

Manufacturer Web site Comments

Panel and shelving support systems Arakawa Hanging Systems www.arakawagrip.com Wide variety of ceiling and floor anchors and shelving grippers as well as railing systems and picture hanging rails Gyford Productions LLC. www.standoffsystems.com Cables systems for shelving, panels, signage as well as integrated with line of freestanding extrusions for panel systems Jakob www.jakobstainlesssteel.com Inox line of shelving supports on cable system Nova Display www.novadisplay.com Cable, rod, and floor stand display systems with variety of clamping options PosiLock www.s3i.co.uk Sign, picture, and shelf handing systems Secosouth Architectural Systems www.secosouth.com Stainless steel systems for shelving, signage, grills, and architectural rigging Veritas Hardware Systems www.veritas.com Stainless steel cable and rod systems for suspending Veritas panels as well as other shelving and hanging panels Cable railings Atlantis Rail Systems www.atlantisrail.com Stainless steel cable railing and accessories Feeney Wire www.cablerail.com Cable rail system for interior stairs and guards Hansen Architectural Systems www.aluminumrailing.com Cable rail systems and other railing products Johnson Architectural Hardware www.csjohnson.com Stainless steel cables, rods, and accessories for interior or exterior use PosiLock www.s3i.co.uk Wire rope assemblies and fittings Ronstan www.ronstanusa.com Mainly heavy duty architectural rigging systems for exterior use but also has railing system for interior use Secosouth Architectural Systems www.secosouth.com Stainless steel handrail and guard systems TriPyramid Structures, Inc. www.tripyramid.com Architectural support systems, including railing system for interior use Ultra-tec www.ultra-tec.com Stainless steel railing for handrails



Multiple pieces of long, relatively thin elements can be used as a type of translucent barrier.

By varying the thickness and spacing of the individual elements varying degrees of separation are created. Elements can be installed vertically, horizontally, diagonally, or in any combination. Unless the linear elements are part of a pre-manufactured system, the cost of materials and installation can be significant because each has to be installed separately. Cable railing systems, normally used for stair and balcony railings can be used for this application if very thin linear elements are desired. Some of the cable railing manufacturers are listed in Tbl. 6.


Hanging panels or other construction elements can provide a sense of separation while allowing a wide range of visibility. Practically, hanging materials avoids any irregularities of the floor and prevents damaging the flooring material with attachment hardware. Depending on the attachment method, hanging panels can be relocated easily as the user's needs change. Many of the suspension methods illustrated can also be used for hanging panels.

In commercial construction, products can be suspended from a suspended acoustical ceiling or from the structural floor above. Lightweight materials can be hung from acoustical ceiling grids with clips that attach to the grid, with screws directly through the grid, or with toggle bolts through the tile. Heavier materials can be suspended with heavy-gauge wire or metal framing attached to the structural floor above or from a steel framework directly above the suspended ceiling.

Partial Height

Partial height partitions are commonly used to define space, direct movement, and/or provide a backing for furniture, equipment, and electrical services while keeping the space open and allowing views, light, and sound between spaces. While freestanding panels and systems furniture can also meet these functions, permanent partitions look more like an architectural element in a space rather than a furnishings element. Several variations are shown.

When the design intent is to have the partial height walls look like an architectural element, they are typically constructed with gypsum wallboard on studs.

Straight, partial height partitions are typically not strong enough to support lateral loads (like someone leaning on them) if they are just attached to the floor with fasteners commonly used for full-height partitions. One way to solve this problem is to use a curved or angled shape. The shape of the low partition itself provides the necessary strength, acting as a shaped beam oriented vertically.

Another way to provide support for a straight, low partition is to provide a steel plate bolted to the floor with a steel post welded to the plate.


ill. 15 Types of partial-height barriers: (a) partial height (b) variable height (c) angled (d) curved

Partial height partitions are typically used to define space and direct movement when audio separation is not required while allowing vision and light transmittance in. They are also used as a backdrop or shield for furniture, equipment, and anything that needs to be hidden from view. When low enough for people to lean on or place object on, the top edge usually needs to have some type of durable cap.

Variable-height partitions are used for the same reason as single-height partitions except the different heights may provide more privacy where it’s desired, act as a support for wall-mounted items, to direct views, or simply add interest to the partition.

The height of the partition affects the sense of separation.

Angled partitions vary the amount of separation within a single plane and provide a more dynamic line and shape to the space it defines. Variations include using two or more angles to give the partition even more interest or to modulate the wall to meet the needs of the spaces in which it’s used.

Curved partial-height partitions serve some of the same functions as angled and variable height walls but with a different shape. Curves may be convex or concave. Curves such as the one shown in this diagram are an elegant way to make the transition from one height to another. The radius of the curve can be varied to suit the functions of the partitions.

One disadvantage to this shape is that the top of the curve is more difficult to cap with some type of durable material.

cap material required


ill. 16 Low-partition bracing 3 5/8" (92.1) metal studs stud fastened to steel tube 3 1/2" x 3 1/2" x 3/16" (89 x 89 x 5) steel tube welded to bearing plate 4" x 8 x 1/4" (100 x 200 x 6) bearing plate bolted to concrete floor note: lower portion of wallboard and one stud not shown for clarity; 2 1/2" 63.5) studs may also be used


ill. 17 Gypsum wallboard caps wood cap 1/8" (3) wider than partition on each side sloped or flat cap wallboard reveal trim stone or tile cap shim and level aluminum wallboard trim tape and finish (a) wood cap (b) trimless cap (c) stone cap (d) wallboard trim (e) bullnose trim (f) metal trim blocking as required sheet metal configuration as designed



Partial-height dividers of uniform height are typically used to create individual workstations or as a backup for storage, bars, and work surfaces or to conceal unsightly equipment and cords.

The dividers may be high to block views if privacy is needed or low to allow the maximum amount of light transmission and vision. For short runs of partition designed to support work surfaces or storage units, a U-shaped or L-shaped partition should be constructed to provide lateral support without the need for structural steel supports.

When the height of the partition is low enough for people to lean on or place objects on some type of durable material should be used to cap the partition. Some of the possible ways of doing this are shown. To discourage placement of objects on the wall rounded or angled tops can be used. All of these terminations can also be used for vertical or sloped edges.


Variable-height partitions, as diagrammed in ill. 15(b), are useful for all of the reasons as a uniform-height partition, while limiting views in some areas or providing walls where full-height construction is necessary.


Angled partitions, as shown in ill. 15(c), are a variation of the variable height partition but provide a more dynamic line from a strictly design standpoint. When multiple angled partitions are used at different angles or in opposing directions, they can create a dynamic rhythm in a space. The straight lines also make it easy to cap the edge of the partition with wood, metal, wallboard trim, or other materials, to protect the corners and thin edge.


Partial-height partitions curved in the vertical direction create dynamic forms and which can be used with curved lines elsewhere in a space as a basic design element. Curves may also be combined with straight and angled shapes. Curves can be di fficult to form with standard wallboard framing techniques, but one manufacturer makes metal stud track that can be curved vertically to make forming inside or outside curves fairly easy. While curved edges can be easily formed with flexible vinyl corner bead or L-trim, one of the main di fficulties with this type of partition is providing a durable cap (other than gypsum wallboard) to finish the curved edge. Curved shapes may also be curved in two directions, although these are more di fficult and costly to construct, usually requiring a plaster finish instead of standard gypsum wallboard.


Thick partitions refer to those that occupy a significant amount of floor space beyond just the depth of the partition itself. Some types of thick partitions are shown in ill. 18.


Modulated partitions create an in-and-out shape based on planning requirements for the spaces on both sides of the partition, for the accommodation of equipment or storage, or simply as a way to create interest or break up a long run of an otherwise plain wall. Modulated partitions can also result from concealment of structural columns or pipe chases.


Curved walls and complete circles are strong geometric forms. They focus attention on the concave side and can be useful for meeting rooms, gathering spaces, or any place where the designer wants to establish a special interior space. Broad curves can also be used along a circulation space to create a sense of dynamic movement through a rectangular building. A complete circle emphasizes a space, especially when placed in a rectangular grid. However, depending on the radius, the convex opposite sides of curved partitions can be problematic for space planning, furniture arrangement, or equipment placement.


ill. 18 Types of thick barriers (a) modulated (b) curved full height (c) angled (d) storage Modulated partitions can be used to define space for activities, create niches for furniture, or simply add interest and reduce the scale of an otherwise large partition. As with any thick partition, the size and shape on one side has implication for the other side, so the placement and design must be carefully though out and resolved in the space-planning process.

Curved partitions create dynamic spaces. The concave portion emphasizes and tightens a space, while the opposite convex side expands the sense of space. While providing exciting spaces, curved partitions are slightly more expensive to build and make it difficult to hang artwork and support rectilinear furniture and fixtures. Generally, curved partitions stand on their own as a strong definition of space.

Like modulated partitions, angled partitions reduce the scale of a long wall and create a more dynamic spatial edge.

The size and number of angles can be varied to suit the purposes of the partition. Small divisions can reduce the scale while large divisions can serve practical purposes such as providing spaces for furniture or emphasizing artwork.

In a corridor, the negative spaces can provide a space to step aside to view wall hangings or as a space for doors to swing out without encroaching on the corridor space.

Storage walls let a partition do double duty as space dividers as well as storage spaces. One side can be a flat wall, as shown here, or one half of the partition can face one room while the other half faces the opposite room. Storage walls make good acoustical separations, keeping noise and activities away from the partition itself, preventing bumping the wall with furniture or accidental human contact. With closet doors, the inside space makes an acoustical barrier.



Angled or folded wall surfaces are similar to modulated walls but create a more dynamic statement of surface and rhythm. Angled surfaces can have a strictly functional purpose, such as providing individual spaces for art or other displays or can simply be a way to reduce the scale of a long partition. As with curved walls, a shape that may work on one side may not work on the other side, so careful space planning is required to minimize wasted floor space.


Storage walls divide space, serve a functional purpose, and can create an interesting surface texture. When used with closet doors and other drawer fronts, storage walls also serve as a double wall, providing additional acoustical separation between two spaces. With one flat wall on the opposite side, there is no space-planning problem with the side opposite as there is with curved or angled walls. For two identical spaces planned back to back, half of the wall can face toward one space with its mirror image facing the other space; E.g., with two closets for two adjacent bedrooms.

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