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  Translucent Interior Walls Throw Office Design a Curve

Instead of a wall that blocks and separates and darkens, think of a wall that screens yet integrates as it softly diffuses the light. Think translucent polycarbonate. Architect Derek Norton, AIA, principal at Ritter Architects, did when he designed the interior of the new offices for Omnifics, a leading contract furnishings and services firm in Alexandria, Virginia.

After gutting an entire 12,000-square-foot floor of a renovated building in Old Town Alexandria, Norton created an environment encompassed by natural light and high-impact colors. He sited workstations and offices around the daylit perimeter of the space, which functions both as headquarters and as an exhibiting showroom for high-profile Omnifics, one of the world’s top 10 dealers in Haworth office systems.

Enhancing Norton’s light-filled design, two focal areas, located at each end of the space, feature polycarbonate systems. One is a ceiling-high, 40-foot-long translucent curve that screens the company lounge from the visitor’s view. The other is a solid curve embedded with translucent panels; it forms a conference room.

A curved wall of translucent polycarbonate screens the employee lounge at the new offices of Omnifics, designed by architect Derek Norton, AIA, of Ritter Architects. Engineered by Duo-Gard Industries, the wall visually shields the break area yet allows diffused light to pass through.“I’ve worked with polycarbonate before, and it’s an economical way of adding visual privacy while maintaining the flow of filtered light,” Norton says.

The interior wall systems were engineered and fabricated by Duo-Gard Industries Inc., a leading design/build daylighting firm specializing in polycarbonate technology. The company offers six translucent interior wall systems, with color choices in glazing and framing. All carry a CC1 – Class A fire rating for this selfextinguishing material.

Norton admits he had concerns about the curved wall in the lounge. It required an 18-foot radius. Duo-Gard engineers achieved his design with shatterproof 16mm triple-wall polycarbonate framed with the Series 3000 VBPC, which features a variable base plate, pressure plate and cap system. The system’s aluminum channels were notched so they could easily bend at the site. The curve is 6 feet high, resting on a 2-foot kneewall. Aluminum columns were attached first, then mullions every 10 feet, accommodating 6-x10-foot polycarbonate sheets with the flutes running horizontally.

“The horizontal fluting carries you visually around the curve,” Norton says. He selected a clear tint in the 16mm polycarbonate, allowing 74% visible light to filter through, and had the area backlit. “We could have just shut off the lounge area because it’s sometimes messy, but we wanted to add to the quality of work life at Omnifics. This way, it’s screened and private, yet still visually appealing.”

Norton says glass could have been an option, but “it would have cost more, it couldn’t curve, and we’d have had to coat it to achieve the translucency we wanted.”

Because he wanted that translucency for the conference area also, Duo-Gard engineered four panels of varying sizes in 8mm clear polycarbonate, framed with aluminum tube. The panels are set into a solid curved wall. “The translucent openings afford privacy while creating a visual impact in context with the boldness of the wall colors, which include orange, yellow and purple,” says Norton.

“I like using today’s polycarbonate,” he adds. “It’s new for some folks, and they don’t know how easy it is to work with. This material has a combination of value plus appearance.”

Norton’s client Ken Morrison, principal at Omnifics, offers the last word: “I can see the lounge from my office, and it looks good to me.”

Vibrant colors including bright orange complement the visual impact in a conference area that features a solid wall inset with four translucent polycarbonate panels of varying size.The project team included Rand Construction Corporation, Project Management Resources and Washington Windows, plus MAC Products as Duo-Gard’s area representative.

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