The panels provide a dramatic centerpiece for the space and generate a sense of direction and fluid motion.

Specialty ceilings, especially 3-D ones, have become the latest office design trend. Given dramatic changes in the workplace over the past 30 years-from individual offices to open cubicles to up and coming, one-size-fits-all concepts of work space-ceiling designs have adapted to evolving environments.

Utilizing dynamic shapes, diverse materials, new colors and creative lighting, architects, builders and designers are experimenting with a variety of three-dimensional ceiling designs.

Aesthetically, these ceilings add drama and style to bland, "Dilbertized" office space. Practically speaking, they can help solve common design dilemmas, such as balancing the scale of space or bridging the visual gap between different ceiling heights.

"The three-dimensional quality not only offers limitless artistic possibilities, but lends itself to breaking up the monotony of open-office areas dominated by a sea of cubicles," says Cyrus Cowasjee, architect and senior project manager at architectural firm Vasquez + Marshall & Associates, of San Diego. "We incorporated several different 3-D styles into a single office plan. When coordinated effectively, these ceilings delineate executive space from worker space, direct traffic flow and simultaneously blend formal work environments with casual offices."

The open offices feature plenty of space, while the soft blue, green and earth tone colors help reinforce the relaxed yet motivating atmosphere.

California dreamin'

Vasquez + Marshall, has designed commercial interiors across California and the west for more than 10 years. Recently, the firm specified an innovative three-dimensional ceiling system for the regional headquarters of a newly constructed auto finance service center in Sabre Springs, a San Diego suburb.

The 300,000-square-foot complex consists of two six-story stone buildings that offer panoramic views of San Diego's rustic chaparral foothills. The new headquarters service center, which employs more than 200 employees who process and service car loans for dealers, occupies half of the fourth floor and all of the fifth and sixth floors of one of the buildings.

Vasquez + Marshall opted for an open-office plan, with 87 percent of the total space left available for a flexible workstation/work area configuration. Each floor comprises a central service core providing restrooms, a coffee bar, an elevator lobby at its center and stair access at each end. The remainder was configured to accommodate work areas, collaboration pods and individualized workstations. A feature unique to the sixth floor is the central break room/company store, as well as an outdoor patio balcony accessible to the executive offices.

"Our primary concern was creating an innovative workspace fit for today's progressive office culture, while maintaining the elegance and sophistication requisite of a corporate headquarters," says Cowasjee. "It was important to achieve a design that wouldn't date itself in five years and provide overall comfort to end users who spend the majority of their time in the workplace. Combining several different ceiling styles became the key to creating this vision."

First, Cowasjee chose USG Interiors' Billo 3-Dimensional Panels as the centerpiece for the space. Acting as a playful ribbon running down the center of each floor, its wavy shape gave the space a sense of direction and fluid motion. The customizable ceiling's pattern was created by forming rows of three sets of concave/convex, lightweight Lexan infill panels to form a distinctive line.

The innovative system consists of 2-foot-by-2-foot pre-formed panels. These can be installed either curved upward toward the ceiling or downward toward the floor, permitting customization of each ceiling and a myriad of patterns with just one simple panel shape. The semi-translucent infill panels can also be backlit with fluorescent strip fixtures or integrated with standard lay-in fixtures.

"The panels provide a dynamic visual effect, drawing the eye back to the core from anywhere within the space; they function as a ‘way finder' for the facility and are a visual element from one end of the floor to the other," says Constance Morris, project coordinator for Vasquez + Marshall.

This building located in suburban San Diego serves as the regional headquarters for an auto finance service center.
The ceiling's structure accomplished additional design goals as well. Its linear effect helped to direct foot traffic, as well as to seamlessly separate executives' offices from open areas. Moreover, the panels' playful look helped minimize the confined nature of each worker's cubicle, reinforcing a more relaxed feeling; a promising trend in successful corporate cultures.

More than 4,000 square feet of the Billo white, opaque, 2-foot-by-2-foot pre-formed panels was specified. In addition, approximately 54,000 square feet of traditional ceiling panels made by USG Interiors was installed in other areas of the space.

The white acoustical panels were installed in a 2-foot-by-2-foot formation with the Fineline Ceiling Suspension System over the entire open space. They were chosen for their unobtrusive design and for some practical reasons as well.

The high light reflectance (.90) of the panels reduced workers' eyestrain and decreased the number of light fixtures required. It also became integral to the performance of the indirect lighting system.

In addition, room speech privacy for the open floor plan was an important consideration. To enhance workers' privacy when processing loans from cubicles, their speech intelligibility needed to be reduced. Even with partitions extended to the ceiling, sound can still rise to the top, travel through ductwork and bounce back down.

"First, we determine whether the space requires intelligibility, reduced distractions or speaker privacy," says Cowasjee. "For this project, the Mars panels provided the superior noise reduction (up to .70) we wanted for a cubicle setting in an open-space plan."

The plan also incorporated another ceiling to contrast with the smooth look of the Mars panels. Sandrift Climaplus Ceiling Panels, also from USG, are designed to simulate the appearance of wind-driven sand and were specified for the elevator lobbies and break rooms.

To reinforce the relaxed yet motivating atmosphere, soft blue, green and earth tones were chosen for the interior décor. Walls near the elevator and lobbies were richly paneled in maple, and the drywall on other walls was covered with a combination of vinyl wall coverings that resist abuse and paint. The floors were covered with various colored carpet tiles. Built-in, indirect parabolic and suspended lighting completed the contemporary look.

"The result provided a modern, yet balanced appearance," says Cowasjee. "And the best part is that the flexible design can accommodate growth for at least the next five years."

Whatever shapes they may take, 3-D ceilings have definitely moved ceilings out of the bland background onto center stage and the future appears to be limited only by our imagination.

If you read this article, please circle number 170.