Office fit-out & furniture. How pillars can reduce usable desk space
By Crispin Maby
You might have found a nice big rectangular open-plan office to move to which all looks perfect and the square footage is exactly what your agent suggested would be right for your staff numbers and general requirements. But hold on, I want to show you how two offices with identical dimensions can have completely different usable space attributes. This article examines the effect of structural columns (pillars) that are more often than not found in office buildings, sometimes to a greater and other times a lesser extent.
In an ideal world, you want to try to find an office space with minimal or no columns. Easier said than done, but as we will see in a moment, the impact pillars have on the overall area (square feet or sq m) is usually absolutely minimal, however the impact they have on how you can use the space can be dramatic.
Below we have two floor plans of exactly the same open-plan office, the same, that is, except that I have added some columns to the second drawing. The columns, each having a foot print of 0.16 square metres, take up less than a one square metre in total. The total floor area is 256m², but with the addition of the columns, figure 2 is reduced by just 0.8m² to 255.2m². Hardly worth worrying about is it. Or is it?
We always have to be mindful of the fact that sufficient space must be left between desks to allow people easy access, and also that the main circulation channels (aisles, traffic routes or corridors) need to be sufficiently wide and un-obstructed, so I have allowed 2m spacing between desks back-to-back, and a 1.2m width main aisle running through the office (this is show as 2 thin blue lines). Another consideration is an HSE requirement that each person has at least 11 cubic metres of space, and this is dealt with in a separate article about how much office space I need.
As you can see, of the 66 desks we had in figure 1, thirteen need to be removed from the second plan (desks shaded in light grey) bringing the total down to 53 which is a reduction of almost 20%. The reason for this is that due to the positioning of the columns, the layout no longer provides for a sufficient main aisle and we therefore had to move this into the space that desks were previously occupying. The three desks near the entrance also need to come out because there would now not be sufficient access space for the people sitting at those desks.
So you can see that a small change can make a big difference and this is why you should never assume that two offices of similar floor space will give you the same amount of usable space. Of course, in some circumstances you might be able to use smaller desks or use the redundant space for something else, but that might be a compromise you don’t want to make.
I hope you have found this article useful.