Reimagining Commercial Ceilings For Open Spaces

Whether an open plenum or disruptive structural components, if a ceiling area cannot be covered completely, then it can be adorned strategically.

By Robert Marshall

Tight budgets and disruptive structural elements often require facility managers to get creative when it comes to specifying products for commercial ceilings. If a ceiling area cannot be covered completely, then it should be covered strategically. For these situations, there are a number of design solutions that blend modern aesthetics with acoustic performance for open space design. For commercial ceilings, clouds, baffles, planks, and beams enhance design freedom by allowing for unique positioning, stacking, angling and layering.

Not only can facility managers create custom looks for their commercial ceilings with standard shapes and sizes, these products provide easy access to HVAC components, fire suppression systems (including annual testing) and lighting systems.

Lightweight Clouds And Baffles Provide Visual Flair

When reduced budgets and structural realities demand an alternative to the standard wall-to-wall suspended ceiling, facility managers can turn to lightweight baffles and clouds to address common challenges within large open plenum spaces.

commercial ceilings
Photo: CertainTeed

Featuring excellent sound absorption properties, baffles are prime examples of how specifiers can create custom visuals through the creative arrangement of standard product sizes and shapes. By staggering or layering individual baffles, facility managers can create unique ceiling installations in corridors, transitional spaces, and other open-concept environments.

commercial ceilings
Photo: CertainTeed

New shapes, such as waves and zig-zags, add additional visual flair that can help transform conventional areas like corridors, classrooms and offices into dynamic spaces with movement and energy. Not only do these products accommodate existing HVAC ductwork, plumbing, and fire protection systems, these also provide effective acoustic management — a key component of designing for healthy, balanced environments. New accessories also allow for vertical installation onto walls, enhancing design flexibility.

Clouds also provide architects and designers with an offering of colors, shapes, and sizes to create interesting, design-forward installations. Squares, circles, rectangles, trapezoids, and hexagons in an array of on-trend color options allow designers a world of creative possibility for commercial ceilings.

These lightweight high-density fiberglass clouds are easy to handle and install quickly, which reduces labor costs and keeps projects on schedule. But they’re also durable — the robust construction ensures even large-format panels resist sagging without requiring extra support.

commercial ceilings“Clouds of any shape and color can be installed in layers on angles and at any depth to create dramatic sculptural installations with superior acoustic control,” says Chris Bourque, director of marketing at CertainTeed. “Design professionals truly can let their creativity take over with these products.”

As commercial spaces have become more open, the use of glass, wood, metal, polished concrete, and other acoustically reflective materials have become more common. These trends have made sound control more important than ever for occupant well-being. Research indicates precisely placed clouds and baffles can absorb an acceptable amount of sound with less surface area than would be provided by wall-to-wall suspended ceilings.

“While there are many clouds and baffles on the market, finding a cohesive line of products that deliver creative and acoustic control is paramount for facility managers,” adds Bourque. “By specifying products from a single manufacturer, one can streamline the specification process by using standard sizes and shapes in creative ways. This also helps with ordering and product management.”

Linear Planks And Beams Add Sophistication

While clouds and baffles help create unique, design-forward installations, they aren’t appropriate for every application. Many large open-plenum spaces require a more uniform design that incorporates sophisticated wood looks and linear visuals. Planks and beams are well suited to these environments while offering similar acoustic performance as clouds and baffles.

For facility managers working in existing convention centers, hotels with large event spaces and other mixed-use hospitality environments, planks and beams offer added advantages during renovation and retrofit projects. These include flexible installation, easy access to the plenum, and the ability to create a custom look with standard products.

By using a flexible grid system, planks and beams can be suspended in a variety of ways to create points of design interest and to accommodate existing ductwork, conduit, fire suppression systems, roof drains, and plumbing.

Also, planks and beams can be used just as creatively as clouds and baffles to develop captivating visuals. Even with standard products, facility managers have access to a variety of wood species, finishes, and sizes. Plus, the choice between tongue and groove or an open reveal adds additional design flexibility without sacrificing acoustics.

Options For Open Plenum Spaces

Facility managers no longer have to fall back on traditional grid ceilings for open space design. When facing tight budgets and disruptive structural elements, they are able to get creative with new and exciting clouds, baffles, planks and beams. Not only do these products enhance the acoustics of a space, they allow for unique positioning and layering while providing access to the plenum. It’s a win-win for facility managers and building occupants.

Marshall is the senior technical manager for CertainTeed Ceilings and a lifelong participant in the commercial ceiling industry. He is the product of one of world’s first acoustic ceiling contracting businesses; a company founded by his family in 1927.


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