Fire-Rated Stairwells

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These articles was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 15,

1999. All rights reserved.

Room with a Cube: KSS Architects

The ubiquitous cubicle that dominates corporate


of the 1990s may never go out of style, but like all things, it is

evolving. As technology advances at a rapid clip, says Sheila


an architect with KSS (Kehrt Shatken Sharon) Architects at 337


Street, so too the modern cubicle is starting to look like a different

animal altogether. "Cubicles are becoming a lot more


she says, "with fun components like things that attach to the

screens, and work surfaces that clamp on and roll away."

What’s hot in today’s corporate interiors: "dynamic


says Nall, and environmentally-sound materials. What’s not: a standard

100-square-foot cubicle with loose, inflexible furniture, and knots

of wires everywhere.

A minimal impact on the environment is one of the first things that

architects consider, says Nall. "Impact on the environment is

probably going to be a real driving force in design decisions,"

she says. Tiles can be made from recycled light bulbs or rubber used

from old tires. In some environmentally "smart buildings,"

for example, the floors are made of an almost inexhaustible material:

bamboo. "They’re costly but the beautiful," says Nall of these

new materials, but "as people make a commitment to use those


and they make our clients more aware, the production will increase

and the prices will come down." In the long run,


planning can save money because "it takes less energy to heat,

ventilate and light."

Nall discusses some ways of revamping your office space — for

form, functionality, and environmental consciousness — on


December 16, at 8 a.m. at The Princeton Council’s monthly meeting

at the Hyatt. Call 732-615-9096.

Nall moved to Princeton in 1998, after seven years at a large


and engineering firm in Atlanta. There she worked on space planning

and programming for the 750,000-square-foot corporate headquarters

of the Georgia Power Company. She has a BS in interior design from

the University of Cincinnati, Class of 1975. She lives with her


an architect and engineer for Flack and Kertz in Manhattan, in


where they just renovated a home.

She is currently doing space planning for Celebration, Disney’s


community. Aldo Rossi, the famous Italian architect who recently

died, built two of the three buildings on the project.

The modern day office, says Nall, will have an austere workstation

with flexible walls that integrate technology. "With the advent

of flat screen computers as opposed to the big hulking terminals,"

she says, "furniture manufacturers are looking into building those

into the actual panels of the wall, so it’s no longer sitting on your


When Nall started planning in the late 1970s, designers were just

beginning to pull people out of offices and out into open spaces.

That concept proved to be popular throughout the next two decades,

but the idea of "common space" is changing in today’s


"We want open spaces that are not specifically work-related, but

provide employees opportunity to run across each other and


she says. "As people do telecommuting, there may be more need

for teleconferencing spaces — rooms where groups can get together

and have meetings and conferences."

People who do different jobs thrive in different environments, says

Nall, and planners need to be sensitive to that. "Editors, for

example, need to work individually and focus on their work, so you’re

not going to want them out in the open," she says, "but a

marketing group needs open areas where people can get together and

brainstorm." High-tech, busy programmers need a flexible kind

of space because they need to be able to team up to solve problems,

and when focus is necessary, retreat behind walls. Furniture makers

are designing new workstations accordingly. "They have the panels

on wheels where you can roll it away and open it up," says Nall,

"but if you want to have privacy you can pull the panel up. It’s

just really exciting. The furnishing manufacturers are the ones who

are studying trends in the way offices need to work or they get left

in the dust."

Don’t have the time or money to be making esthetic decisions? You

may not think your office is a stage for important business


but it is, says Nall. New hires do not sign on for the vacation or

benefits alone, but are drawn to the gestalt of the workplace.


harder to get good people because work is plentiful," she says,

"and everyone is battling to attract and retain young employees

who are knowledgeable in high-tech areas. In the 1980s, when everyone

was hurting so badly, the emphasis was on outsourcing, and reusing

furniture, and now it’s done a 180. You need to compete by offering

a great work environment."

— Melinda Sherwood

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Fire-Rated Stairwells

If you work in a building more than 10 or 15 years old,

it was constructed under old fire codes. Those construction codes

have changed dramatically, says Walter Broner, a Hillier


who is president of a trade association, Construction Specifications

Institute. "In the 1980s codes were not very rigorous. People

recognized what had to be done and improvised." New codes require

materials that are "fire-rated," tested by Underwriters


to resist fire for a certain amount of time.

Such firestopping solutions will be the topic for engineers and


professionals at the Construction Specifications Institute meeting

on Thursday, December 16, at 6:30 p.m. at Novotel. Jim Stahl

of Specified Technologies Inc. will speak. Cost: $25. Call


If you, as a prospective tenant, are taking office space in a


check out the stairwells there. "Fire-rated construction"

is particularly important for stairwells, because they need to be

safe places to exit the building, says Broner. Only an older building

would have a utility closet opening onto a stairwell. And no stairwell

should have ducts in its ceiling. "The code limits what can go

in the stairwell," says Broner. "Any penetration would defeat

the purpose of the wall. Everything but sprinklers should be kept

out. The more penetrations you make, the more likelihood that


is not properly protected."

If, anywhere in the building, there is a hole for a pipe or conduit

or duct, there should be no space between the duct and the ceiling.

"It is quite likely that in existing buildings you will find


where adequate protections were not provided and the situation may

or may not have been rectified," says Broner. "Typically codes

do not require owners to keep up their buildings to existing code.

Typically owners become aware of this when they plan a major


"The bigger danger is storing things in stairs where they are

not supposed to," says Broner. "People find they are totally

tempted by areas underneath stairs."

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