How Technology Influences Interior Design

Technology is everywhere, and it is constantly changing. One area where this is apparent is in the planning and design of an educational facility. Whether you are involved with new construction or renovation, the integration of technology with the interiors of a building is a tremendous challenge. Telecommunication has become the fourth utility in the construction industry, along with electrical, plumbing and HVAC. It is essential that this utility is planned for in educational facilities in conjunction with interior design.

Programming Is Essential

The programming phase of the design process is essential to the success of every project. It is vital that higher education administrators examine what they want to achieve with technology and take the necessary steps to attain their goals during programming. In many cases, however, technology requirements are the most difficult element to define because of the rapid changes in computer systems and the financial implications of these decisions. The cost of maintaining, renovating or replacing facilities is increasing, and administrators need to maximize their investments. Unfortunately, many times when it comes to the evaluation and research of a technology plan, the programming phase is cut short.

A successful plan focuses equally on product, people and process. The first step is to form a team of decision makers that has a range of expertise - a team that includes both educators and information systems (IS) experts who will work closely with the design professional. By including a designer in the initial stages of planning, everyone can develop an understanding of needs early in the process and investigate options accordingly through subsequent stages. By partnering with educators, designers will understand current needs, as well as predicted curriculum needs for several years ahead. It is not easy to predict future needs; however, spaces can be designed to allow flexibility for future requirements. If an IS expert does not exist in-house, a consultant should be included so the technology plan can be most effectively developed and properly implemented.

Building the Infrastructure

There are many issues to keep in mind when designing the infrastructure for a building; however, change is the only certainty that the future holds.

The cabling infrastructure is the backbone of the information flow within a building, and it must support both ongoing changes as well as future network technologies. The average life span of a cabling infrastructure is approximately 15 years, so it is important to plan thoroughly and invest in long-term solutions. Most IS experts agree that facilities should install too much cabling today, as it often is not enough for tomorrow’s needs. Key issues that need to be addressed when planning your network are:

- telephone system to be specified;

- electrical power capacity;

- data cabling requirements;

- density of data, power and voice outlets; and

- network and UPS (uninterruptable power supply) support.

The traditional method of planning the infrastructure is to locate all services above a dropped ceiling and to install cabling within drywall construction. The placement of telecommunications equipment rooms and closets, and the environmental condition of these spaces are important for the network to operate efficiently. The recommended arrangement is one closet per floor, with the closets stacked vertically floor by floor. The pathways used from the closets to the workstations are critical. Pathway planning should include:

- accessibility,

- capacity (both now and in the future),

- physical protection, and

- aesthetics within the space.

The traditional method may not be the best solution in every case. Many solutions for flexible interior fit-out strategies in the office environment are now emerging and provide excellent alternatives. For example, Steelcase in Grand Rapids, Mich., recently introduced a system called Pathways that integrates ceilings, walls, floors, lighting and furniture into a cohesive yet flexible environment. By partnering with manufacturers of building components (i.e., ceiling and floor systems), Steelcase has been able to design and manufacture innovative components that support the cabling for telecommunications. Another example is Green Bay, Wis.-based KI’s Flexible WorkSpace system. By using full-height power towers, end users are able to create unlimited plan configurations. Flexibility and ease of reconfiguration are the keys to the usefulness of these products.

Effective Lighting Solutions

A comfortable and effective learning environment demands proper lighting. Eyestrain is one of the most reported complaints of computer users, and computer screen glare is now the leading cause of eyestrain. When planning the lighting for any facility, the following issues should be addressed:

- zone size,

- fixture density,

- lighting quality,

- exposure to natural daylight,

- degree of user control, and

- long-term maintenance.

A combination of indirect and task lighting is the recommended strategy to create a visually comfortable environment. Indirect lighting distributes light to illuminate the ceiling evenly and to reduce glare to a minimum. Supplemental task lighting may be required for reading or detail work, and task lighting can also be used as a conduit for integrating technology. As recently as two years ago, designers working on library interiors were custom designing table lamps to include tel/data outlets in the base for laptop use. Today there are many products available with this feature.

The physical placement of a workstation is another critical aspect of lighting in relation to computers. Computer workstations should be arranged so the user is not facing an unshielded window or bright light source. If possible, the monitor should be perpendicular to the line of windows to avoid glare and eye strain.

The physical environment greatly influences behavior. As new interactive technologies and multimedia training techniques emerge, educational facilities must provide up-to-date options. Intelligent and thoughtful design can create a dynamic learning environment that facilitates effective learning.

Tish McDavitt is director of the interior design department at JSA, Inc., Gaithersburg, Md.

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