Open concept is a design trend of today. We see it in residential applications as well as commercial spaces.
This new idea of flexible environments, whether they be private homes, educational environments or even corporate workspaces speaks to the collaboration trends in our social world today and design must follow suit. What was once compartmentalized (by design) is now OPEN, it is now social, multifunctional and unpretentious.
If you are beginning with a clean slate, OPEN is “easy”. What was built intentionally to be OPEN (concept) would never have been exposed to segmentation… so these environments are flexible, casual and adaptable from conception. The challenge is refurbishing an interior that was intended for separation and making it “OPEN”able.
A Force to be Reckoned With
Starting from the top of a structure, weight presses downward as well as outward. The purpose of a “load” bearing wall is to support these weights and transfer it safely from the top (of a structure) to the foundation. Calculations for “load” take space, materiality, height, content and connections into account. It is not necessary to make all walls “load” bearing when few can handle the “job”.
The shell of a structure (the exterior walls) are obviously “load” bearing since we have already discussed that weight presses down as well as out, but in reality, there are few interior walls that need to carry the burden of the distribution… and the ones that do are strategically placed and conformed to (if you had the right consultants there at project kick off).
If (Interior) Walls Could Talk?
As designers, much of our careers are spent refurbishing. Revamping spaces is challenging. There are times we have the capacity in the project to demo to the structure, but we don’t always get that luxury. So, what if the (design) build isn’t ‘new’ and we have constraints, within (existing) structure that we know will remain… but the interior still aches to be OPEN?
How do we manage it? To accomplish it, must our only option be demolishing interior walls? One problem. Aren’t walls kinda important? Walls have two kinds of purpose. The first type is space segregation. These walls are nothing more that partitions. They are objects of function, of hierarchy, of ‘real'(e)state. They could be replaced by curtains or FFE or… void. The second type of wall is intense. It is what we have refered to above as “load” bearing. Like the shell, this type of wall supports the weight of a structure on the inside. These are the walls you may want to remove, but cannot be torn down without jeopardizing structural integrity.
Let what has to remain, re-exist and build ‘new’ around it
Converting compartmentalized spaces into OPEN spaces can be dramatic… by design. It isn’t just demoing walls, repositioning HVAC, and integrating electrical.
As designers, we must be sensitive to the fact that demolition of non-structure may also be removal of sentiment… breaking down what once was… transformation of original intent.
For our end users, who sometimes have to be led to OPEN, they aren’t able to truly visualize transformation until it is a pile of demolished material on the floor. And sometimes, as much as we understand, we (as designers) have to see it there too… no longer in the shape of its original intent. But in the end, designing OPEN will bear new light, new meaning, and new form.
So (designers), keep the structure of what can’t be changed and challenge yourselves to create new and beautiful and epic around it.