Operable Partitions and Structural Support Deflection Issues

Deflection Issues for Operable Partitions

Operable partitions provide versatility to room layouts. They provide sound separation and aesthetic value. But to a structural engineer, the devil is in the details. These systems must be able to function properly in order to maintain operability and sound retention.

The support of these systems must not only carry the partition weight but also limit the deflection for proper operation. The simplest approach is to place a floor supported system on a slab-on-grade.  But this type of system is rarely specified.

All structures deflect. It is an indication of the elastic properties of the affected member or members. Although easier to accommodate in new structures, adding these systems to existing buildings can be problematic.

Different panel systems possess different deflection requirements. The most common system is the folding partition. Their construction depends on the STC rating (sound transmission class) which affects the deflection limitations. Other systems include accordion doors, movable glass panels, self-supporting panels and portable panels. For this article, we will address the needs of the folding panel partitions.

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How Technology Impacted Expectations in the AEC Industry

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On a recent project, we received a call from an architect client whom had just met with an Owner.  The Owner had a contractor on site ready to start construction of a timber frame building over a full basement. The Owner had only schematic design drawings from a previous architect, whom they fired. The Owner’s contractor had been instructed to start construction the next Monday using these schematic drawings.

Here’s the problem, there were no foundation drawings or a geotechnical investigative report.

Allegheny Design Services was tasked with providing foundation drawings with no coordination with the building manufacturer (who was not yet under contract), the current Architect of Record or geotechnical information.

The solution was to provide partial drawings to the contractor enough to get him started, but not too much to compromise the coordination with the other disciplines.  Part of the problem with these expectations is that technology has claimed to be the magic bullet in providing designs ASAP.  As it turns out, the building system supplier made changes after the foundations were constructed.  This resulted in tearing out some column foundations and adding others. (more…)