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Like permanent vertical barriers, temporary barriers provide the interior designer with the means to shape space and solve specific functional problems. Temporary barriers also help the designer meet the challenges of accommodating the changing needs of clients and reducing the time required for initial construction and relocation.

There are two basic categories of temporary barriers: those that are designed to replace permanent, full-height partitions for complete enclosure of a space and those that do not extend to the ceiling or are not intended to provide a complete separation between two spaces.

Barriers that do not offer complete separation may be panel systems or be part of a furniture system. Both types of barriers can accommodate the rapid change typically encountered in commercial interiors.

Movable partitions intended to replace standard gypsum wallboard partitions are most frequently used for commercial office application and offer a number of advantages in this application:

  • Ease of recon figuration to meet changing office needs
  • In most cases, lower life-cycle costs if partition locations must be changed frequently
  • Clean installation without the wet work of joint compound application
  • In many cases, single-source responsibility by one trade for partitions, doors, glazing, and electrical and data cabling
  • In some cases, tax advantages as movable equipment rather than a fixed asset
  • Shorter construction time with finishes already applied
  • In most cases, the product uses recycled materials and is easy to disassemble and recycle.
  • Readily accommodates out-of-level floors and ceiling tolerances However, movable partitions cannot provide a fire-resistant rating, have limited security capabilities, cannot conceal plumbing, cannot accept some types of finish materials, and some are limited in the ability to provide support for cabinets and other architectural woodwork.

This section discusses the use of temporary barriers that can be easily moved, relocated, recon figured, or dismantled and removed without affecting the surrounding construction. It does not include operable walls, which are fixed construction elements used to divide larger spaces into smaller spaces such as hotel ballrooms, classrooms, and meeting rooms along a fixed track support. This section also does not include furniture systems that may also include movable panels as part of the system, although some movable panel products described in this section do include provisions for hanging work surfaces and storage units or may be designed to work with a particular manufacturer's other products.


Temporary barrier concepts (a) solid full height (b) glass full height (c) total enclosure (d) partial height with post (e) partial height (f) post and screen (g) workstation (h) hanging.



Temporary barriers as described in this section can take on a variety of forms. As described above, they can substitute for fixed partitions or be partial-height dividers. The barriers can be solid, glass, or some combination of both. They may be attached to the base building structure or be freestanding. --- shows some of the basic types of temporary barriers.

In most cases, temporary barriers are part of a manufacturer's proprietary product and come as a complete system of parts. However, custom barriers can be designed, either from basic building materials or with proprietary materials specifically intended for custom panel systems.

When temporary barriers are intended to replace standard partitions, they are called demountable partitions, which consist of a system of individual components that can be quickly assembled, disassembled, and reused with total for near-total salvageability.

There are two basic types of demountable partitions: progressive and non-progressive.

Progressive partitions systems require that the walls be assembled in a particular order and then disassembled in the reverse order. With non-progressive systems, any individual panel can be removed and replaced without disturbing adjacent panels. Most systems today use designs in a non-progressive system.

The configuration and design of individual components varies with each manufacturer but generally consists of several components: floor runners, ceiling runners, vertical sections or posts with connectors to hold the panels, and pre finished panels of solid material or glazing.

All manufacturers provide accessories to make corners, connect to existing construction, and accommodate doors. Most manufacturers also provide for electrical and data cabling.

Partial height barriers can be supported by posts anchored to the floor and ceiling, supported by posts mounted on large feet, cable supported, or self-supporting with two or more connected sections at an angle to each other.


Movable Panel and Wall Manufacturers:


Avanti Systems USA Dirtt Environmental Solutions Haworth Infinium Architectural Wall Systems; KI Livers Bronze Co.

LOFT wall Modernfold Panel Systems Mfg., Inc.

Panelfold Doors and Partitions; Steelcase, Inc.

Teknion Transwall

Web site:


Straight and curved glass wall systems with ability to relocate Several products, including movable walls with solid and glass in fill, interior curtain walls for covering existing building walls, curved units, and stick-built walls with solid or glass in fill Movable wall system in full height or partial height with a variety of options for panels, finishes, doors, and glass units

Full-height, aluminum-framed walls, including doors and glass in fill Full-height movable wall systems, including doors with solid and glass in fill and panels that can accommodate hang-on furniture

Decorative modular wall system of glass panels attached to stainless steel posts for visual separation Freestanding aluminum frame system available in two sizes with customizable in fill panels for use in residential as well as commercial applications

Provides operable and movable partitions, including ceiling suspended; Moveo system with glass panels.

Provides modular and demountable wall systems; Operable and relocatable walls; Privacy wall system includes movable wall system of solid or glass panels at various heights with framing and doors and coordinated to work with other; Steelcase products Provides a variety of products, including; Optos and Altos, consisting of modular, relocatable solid and glazed full-height panels with a variety of finish and door options, including wiring and accessories and coordination with wall-mounted storage and work surfaces; Offers several lines of demountable and movable wall systems, including system integrated with system's furniture.



As with permanent vertical barriers, discussed in Section 5, temporary barriers serve a variety of functions. Full-height partitions can be used to divide space to provide visual, acoustical, and physical separation or they can serve to simply block vision, define space, or function as a background for other design elements. Partial height panels can also define space or partially block vision, and when used in conjunction with work surfaces and storage units, they become individual workstations as an alternate to private offices constructed with gypsum wallboard.

One of the primary functions of temporary barriers is to accommodate change.

Most full-height partition systems are installed by lifting a panel against a ceiling track or a proprietary device clipped to the ceiling. The panel is set plumb and placed against the floor where leveling feet can be used to raise or lower the panel to precisely fit the panel to the space and to level it. A base is then clipped on over the leveling devices.

Some partition systems come with the finish already applied to individual panels. Other systems require that separate panels be applied to the framework, which allows electrical and data cabling to be installed where needed. Finishes include painted steel, gypsum wallboard, wood, high-pressure laminate, fabric or vinyl covered panels, and glass. See ---- for some of the manufacturers of demountable partitions systems and movable panels.

Although there are some similarities among partition systems produced by various manufacturers, every system is unique and the designer must review each and decide which one meets the requirements of the project. Some of the factors to consider when selecting a partition system include the following:

  • The method of assembly and disassembly
  • How the system is connected to the existing structure
  • Availability of glass units and types and sizes of doors available
  • Sizes available and compatibility with the building module (if any)
  • Availability of connectors to allowed angled installation
  • Panel finishes available
  • Ability to use customers own material (COM)
  • Acoustical rating, if applicable
  • Flame spread rating
  • Availability of integrated power and data cabling, if needed
  • Ability to replace individual finish panels
  • Method of resting on existing carpet or other flooring type
  • Ability to accommodate work surfaces or storage units, if needed
  • Amount of recycled material and recyclability
  • Effects on indoor air quality
  • Type of base and top track and finishes available
  • Overall aesthetics


For temporary partitions and other vertical barriers, the primary constraints include the inability for such partitions to have a fire rating, a limited amount of acoustical control, and cost. Partition systems are not designed to be carried above the suspended ceiling.

The lack of a fire rating is generally not an issue because full-height partitions are usually only considered where fire separation is not required. Most systems have a Class A flame spread rating, so they can be used anywhere that type of finish is needed.

Although some manufacturers' systems have a relatively good acoustical control with STC values up to 50 and are suitable for most office uses, actual installed values may be lower, and higher values can only be achieved with other gypsum wallboard constructions.

Partition systems have a higher initial cost per foot than standard gypsum wallboard construction, but costs for large installations must be evaluated on a tax and life-cycle basis, considering how much change in layout is anticipated. Costs for furniture systems with partial height panels must be based on several considerations, including life-cycle costs, tax issues, flexibility, appearance, single-source responsibility, speed of installation, and function.

Additionally, partition systems cannot be used for very high spaces, provide high security, or allow for plumbing pipes or other recessed items to be placed in them.


The type of coordination required for temporary vertical barriers depends on whether the barriers are partial height or full height used in place of standard partitions. Partial-height barriers are usually installed independently of the building structure and other partitions. For barriers that rest on the existing floor, there should be some type of leveling system built into the panels or poles. For suspended barriers, the ceiling structure must be strong enough to support the weight and allow for easy installation and relocation. ---- shows some of the methods of installing permanent barriers, some of which are also applicable to temporary barriers.

When partial-height barriers or furniture systems with panels are used for office applications, coordinating acoustical solutions is critical. Ceiling tile must be selected with a high sound absorption average, SAA (formerly called the NRC, or noise reduction coefficient).

White sound should also be installed to increase speech privacy. Workstations should also be planned to avoid direct sound paths and placed away from highly r eflective materials, such as glass.

Demountable partition systems for large installations are only cost-effective if they are coordinated with other building components and systems, including lighting, HVAC, window mullions, and a suspended ceiling system. Space plans intended for frequent relocation should be laid out on the building grid, which should also coincide with the ceiling. In this way, the relocation of lights, HVAC diffusers and grilles, and sprinkler heads is minimized when partitions change. --- illustrates this type of coordination. Partition systems and other temporary barriers that touch existing construction must have details that allow attachment and acoustical sealing to walls, window mullions, convector covers, and other construction as well as a way to accommodate out-of-plumb construction and other building tolerances.


Although temporary and movable vertical barriers, both full height and partial height, can be custom designed and constructed, they are usually standard manufactured items. In most cases, it is not cost-effective, and many times not structurally sound, to develop new details.

However, some of the ideas shown can be modified to develop movable walls.

In addition, companies that develop trade show displays can be sources of products that may be adapted to custom-designed partial-height barriers.

Full Height

Full-height movable barriers and partitions are available in a variety of styles. Each manufacturer has its own design and method of assembling and disassembling their system. However, most offer panel and door options, as diagrammed. Some offer clean, contemporary styles, while some are more utilitarian.

Most systems are designed to have the top track clipped to an exposed T-runner ceiling grid, which allows removal from the grid without damaging its appearance. Slotted suspended ceiling grids can also be used, which allows the top track to be screwed into the grid without damage if the system provides for a screw attachment. Top tracks can also be attached to gypsum wallboard ceilings with a suitable backing of wood or metal channels above the wallboard.

Because of the basic method of installing full-height moveable partitions they all have a visible continuous runner along the ceiling and proprietary clip-on base or a recessed base assembly. As previously mentioned, some systems use a steel framework to which finish is applied. This allows for installation of wiring and an interchangeable variety of finishes.

Partial Height

The type of partial height vertical barrier required for any given application depends on the particular needs of the project. In some cases, only a decorative backdrop is required to define two or more spaces. For other projects, a complete system of flexible, movable workstations with sound attenuation panels is required for a large corporate office.

Some types of partial height barriers, while being movable and easily disassembled, do require some attachment to the building structure. Post-mounted systems and hanging panels, as diagrammed, are examples of these methods. Refer to 13 for methods of detailing these types of panels. On the other hand, post-and-screen systems and self-supporting panel systems, shown in (f) and (e), are completely independent of the existing building structure. Panels incorporated as part of a furniture system are also self-supporting. The difference between these two approaches may have tax consequences, as one type is attached to the structure as a fixed asset, while the other is not.

--- Types of full-height partitions solid privacy partial glass full glass solid with transom solid full height framed full glass sliding (a) panel options (b) door options

--- Movable panel details (a) clip attachment with applied base (b) screw attachment with recessed base twist clip and bolt machine screw in slotted track tegular tile leveling bolt leveling bolt base clipped to bottom track panel glass or solid panel 4" (100) varies with mfg.


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