Air Movement, Comfort, and Ventilation in Partitioned Work
Today's office designs, technologies and work processes make it increasingly difficult for conventional HVAC systems to satisfy the environmental needs of office workers--especially as those workers more openly express personal preferences about air quality and comfort. In an open-plan office workplace, the design and configuration of furniture and partitions can, in certain cases, influence the thermal and airflow conditions in workstations. Some researchers believe that partitions separating workstations may obstruct airflow, resulting in poorly ventilated workstations. Modern offices may also have large amounts of heat-generating equipment within workstations, requiring substantial airflow for heat removal. Frequent reconfiguration of the geometric layout and thermal loads of open-plan offices places additional demands on the HVAC system. Data from several recent surveys of occupants of large office buildings identify indoor air quality and air circulation as two significant elements that contribute to worker comfort and satisfaction. A 1989 Environmental Protection Agency survey of its own buildings found that 48% of the respondents from one facility brought portable fans to their offices. This body of research seems to indicate that lack of air movement is one of the most common complaints in office environments. The lack of air movement is frequently attributed to the configuration of workstations in open-plan designs. This article presents the major results of a study examining the comfort and ventilation conditions in workstations surrounded by partitions and ventilated by a conventional ceiling supply-and-return air distribution system. The study investigated a wide range of partition configurations and environmental parameters in an attempt to bring greater thoroughness to the testing methodology and to yield a more clearly substantiated conclusion on the role of partitions in air circulation.