At IIDEX, NeoCon Canada: DIRTT’s Office Revolution

As anyone who’s paying attention lately knows, one of the worst offenders in the Western World’s propensity for creating insurmountable mounds of rubbish is the building industry. Even for modest homes, the time-worn modus operandi involves hauling a weekly truckload to the dump, and this is just for residential housing, in which much of the waste is wood-a potential heating source, at least for the lingering bastions of country folk.

Movable walls. Manufactured by DIRTT.

But forget about residential. The real culprit in the tragic cycle of “build, demolish, dispose of, build again” is the office. Since-for better or worse-companies seem to evolve faster than families, the imperatives for their interior spaces may change on a whim (or they may elect new spaces altogether, or-especially frequent these days, it seems, provided the government doesn’t deem them worthy of taxpayer bailouts, simply vanish from the earth). The upshot of this unortunate mutability is heaps of fractured frosted glass, mounds of jagged punctured drywall, piles of maudlin ceiling tiles ridden with asbestos. But perhaps DIRTT founder Mogens Smed, the unlikely-named man behind an even-unlikelier named company, articulates this better: “It is time for North America to realize we can’t perpetually build gigantic workspaces and then proceed to demolish, dispose and rebuild it in perpetuity. Frankly, it is an environmental and economical crime.”

DIRTT (“Doing It Right This Time”) proposes a several-pronged approach to remedy the crime: 1. create modular components with uniform interfaces that are responsive to evolving aesthetics; 2. create a standardized design/build software that allows architects to “not sweat the small stuff,” such as product specs and hardware; and 3. incorporate sustainability into every fact of the design and manufacturing process. High aspirations, indeed, but what do they actually mean? The answer DIRTT deserves would fill several pages (even several books), but, forthwith, a taste…

At IIDEX, NeoCon Canada: DIRTT’s Office Revolution

Curved walls. Manufactured by DIRTT.

At IIDEX, NeoCon Canada: DIRTT’s Office Revolution

Low profile access floor. Manufactured by DIRTT.

As regards 1, the modular components are walls and floors, both of which are infinitely customizable yet easy to move/reconfigure. The DIRTT website identifies the varieties of walls as “movable” (straight profile, constructed of glass and wood with steel panel dividers), “faceted” (featuring a curved profile with segments of glass/wood); “stick built,” (seamless, butt-jointed glass), and “curtain” (dummy walls to hide unsightly base-building walls and/or conceal infrastructure). The floors are a design revolution that reconceives the sub-floor, thus creating space for and easy access to power and data. As regards 2, I’ll defer to DIRTT’s excellent tutorial/demonstration of the capabilities of their ICE software (just the ease with which one can change sizes and colors of glass panels has me sold). As regards 3, DIRTT starts at home-a clear sign that they’re serious about sustainability, as well as a potent symbol that says “do as I do, not just do as I say”-meaning wind-powered computers, paperless/electronic data storage, low-power T5 lighting systems, and employee incentives for using bicycles and/or hybrid vehicles. But beyond how they run their office, all DIRTT’s wood (including veneers and MDF) feature FSC chain-of-custody accreditation. They also use veneer-wrapped aluminum (requiring significantly less wood), water-based finishes (eliminating the need for costly, energy-intensive air filatration during manufacture), and recycled aluminum and glass as structural and decorative wall/furniture elements.

But perhaps these details don’t quite do DIRTT justice. Because what the company portends, and what Smed’s “50 years of combined experience in the modular interior construction business and over 35 years in software programming,” is helping to facilitate, is none other than a complete 180 in the conception of the interior workspace.

See DIRTT on display at Toronto’s IIDEX, Neocon Canada, September 25-26.

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