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For Workspaces To Be Truly Flexible, The Solution Is A Raised Floor


Go back a decade or two and an office layout, once designed, would stay more or less the same for the duration of a lease — perhaps 20 years. Today, flexibility has climbed the agenda, and now, in a post-coronavirus world, businesses are acutely aware of the need to change elements of the business fast, including the physical layout of space.

One design element is growing in popularity among space designers due to how it provides the flexibility to adapt spaces quickly and efficiently, as well as facilitating bespoke design: a raised access floor system.

Renowned architects firm Foster + Partners has long championed the use of raised floors. In June 2021, the firm completed an office building for the PGA Tour in Florida, using a raised floor to future-proof the headquarters without limiting the flexibility of its internal spaces. Similarly, when the firm launched 50 Hudson Yards in New York, a LEED Gold-designed building of 58 stories, in February, Foster + Partners released a statement summing up the benefits.

“Internally, the tower provides high quality, flexible office spaces that are suited to any user configuration, with floor to ceiling glazing and generous ceiling heights," the statement said. "The floorplates are column-free throughout and allow for a raised floor for maximum flexibility. It supports more collaborative ways of working, placing emphasis on places of interaction while also flooding the workspaces with natural light.”

A raised floor system’s flexibility is mainly down to it being quick and easy to change. A building’s wiring and its heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, system are contained under the floor and routed to accommodate the layout of offices and desk space, allowing for much easier access and adaptation than the alternative — running these services above the ceiling and/or through walls and furniture.

Diffusers are strategically placed in floor panels throughout the building, allowing conditioned air to be delivered directly to the occupied space and giving occupants the ability to change the amount or direction of the airflow. As the needs of the office change, the services can be reconfigured under the floor and diffusers can be relocated to accommodate the new layout.

In a world where office leases are getting shorter, both building owners and tenants could benefit from the flexibility to reconfigure. A property owner can get in a new tenant much more quickly and at a lower cost. An occupier could reconfigure a space as teams change or the business strategy evolves.

Foster + Partners stated that a raised floor is an ideal measure to future-proof a workspace, whether the office is a flexible space or for one business to occupy on a traditional lease. Workers returning to the office post-pandemic are likely to enter a much less dense office than previously, with workspaces that accommodate social distancing and more meeting space. As work habits continue to change over time, this may change again.


It is fair to say that the design community understands and appreciates the benefits that come with designing a building with raised access flooring. This goes beyond flexibility to include better comfort, improved indoor air quality and energy savings.

“There is a common misconception, however, that a raised floor means you need a taller building,” said Mark Johnson, national sales director of raised floor manufacturer Tate Access Floors. “In reality, incorporating access flooring into the base building design will save you space. An overhead system to supply HVAC, power and low-voltage systems requires a minimum of 24 inches to 36 inches of space. An underfloor system can deliver these same services within an 8-inch-to-14-inch space. The saving in space can be used to increase ceiling heights and glazing, allowing for a better biophilic experience. Or go the opposite direction and reduce slab-to-slab dimensions, providing the potential to add more floors within the same building height as the conventional overhead design. It is absolutely possible to optimize and achieve both of these benefits.” 

The other common misconception about raised access flooring is that it costs too much. Johnson said that what many people don’t realize is the cost of the access floor itself is offset by all of the savings businesses realize when they eliminate the overhead distribution, including ductwork, conduit, cable trays, ceiling and the building structure itself if a developer chooses to go down the shorter building route.

Having no ceiling at all appeals to the design aesthetic preferred by many office occupiers, where the structure of the building, and not the overhead services, is on show. Windows can be taller, as they can reach closer to the actual floor slab above, providing the natural light that occupiers seek. 

Architecture firm HGA worked with Tate to install a raised floor at the McGough Construction headquarters, a project that transformed an existing trucking transfer station into a modern, open office.

"The use of an underfloor air system allowed the design team to condition the space without hanging ductwork from the existing wood barrel-vaulted bowstring truss roof, the signature element of the existing building," HGA principal and architect Rebecca Celis said. "Focusing the delivery of conditioned air at the level of the occupants allowed for a sustainable solution that brought thermal comfort and control where it is needed most. In addition, the use of the raised access flooring allowed for future flexibility of the open-plan office arrangement, allowing for future reconfiguration of data and electrical connections to workstations and offices.”

Today, any business occupying workspace will be seeking flexibility. For the ability to adapt without compromising on design, designers might do well to look down rather than up.   

This article was produced in collaboration between Tate Inc. and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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