The Build-Out Without the Tear-Down

Nearly every office move involves a build-out — that time-consuming spectacle of sawzalls, sledge hammers, nail guns, wires, dust, and much more that transforms square footage from one kind of space into another. One of the foundations of build-outs? Sheetrock, which is the most common brand of drywall in the United States. Sheetrock is so pervasive it has become shorthand for drywall, in the way “Kleenex” is interchangeable with “tissue.”

We can use it, too, as shorthand for waste. For unsustainability. With every build-out, perfectly good Sheetrock — often just a year old — is torn out and new Sheetrock is erected. Wires are ripped out, and new ones installed. Carpets get ripped from floors, lumber is used to frame walls, and doors and glass are removed (and replaced).

This legacy approach to office design is on its way out. Companies are finding green alternatives to Sheetrock. They are developing ways to customize office space without tearing down and building back up.

What is Sheetrock?

To begin, let’s consider Sheetrock itself. What is it? Steel yourself for the Wikipedia definition. Sheetrock is “a panel made of calcium sulfate dihydrate (gypsum), with or without additives, typically extruded between thick sheets of facer and backer paper, used in the construction of interior walls and ceilings. The plaster is mixed with fiber (typically paper, fiberglass, asbestos, or a combination of these materials), plasticizer, foaming agent, and various additives that can reduce mildew, flammability, and water absorption.”

Greener Sheetrock alternatives increasingly proliferate, but they don’t address the central problem — tearing down walls and building new ones. The wall materials may be environmentally friendlier than Sheetrock, but they still require lumber, new walls, and waste.

Modular Walls Are Win-Win

Modular walls aren’t new — in some ways, the cubicle farms that dominated offices during the ‘80s and ‘90s represent a variation on a theme of modular walls. Office design has moved far away from cubicles, fortunately. But fresh modular strategies for office design are emerging.

Offering myriad benefits in addition to green ones, modular walls:

  • Are meant to move with ease; no need for breaking out a sawzall and sledgehammers to get rid of the wall. Just move it.
  • Are purchased once and used potentially for decades — waste is nearly non-existent. Create an alternative to static workplaces. New spaces can be created in moments, and entire offices can be rearranged in hours.
  • Complement the open office environment smashingly well. One open-office complaint is lack of privacy, but modular walls let people and teams quickly create privacy, whether for minutes or months at a time.
  • Dramatically speed-up move-in times. Instead of demanding weeks if not months of steady work by contractors before companies can move in, Modular walls essentially eliminate this extremely time-consuming step in the build-out process.

Drywall isn’t going away any time soon. Residential construction, for one, is likely to remain reliant upon it. But while homes do undergo wall-wrecking renovations, they tend to happen infrequently during the life of a house, and they generally don’t involve every room in the house. Office build-outs are different. They simultaneously consume and waste drywall with abandon. But those days are numbered, thanks to the modular revolution.