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Multi-Purpose Wall

Encouraging 'ownership' of public space is difficult. Users are reluctant to modify anything that isn't their own. Of course, there are those that are ready to drill a hole in the wall - but this brings about electrical hazards and other concerns.

ModWall was created for makerspaces. Users can drill or screw into any of the panels. Wall studs run vertical and horizontal, increasing wall strength while allowing cables to run freely behind the panels. Each panel can be removed, reversed, and remounted with thumb screws. Panels provide the option of a birch face (for aesthetics), a cork-face (for pin-ups), or a dry-erase-face (for sketching/writing). Panels also serve as a mobile protective work space or sketch pad at work-tables.

An aluminum t-slot track is mounted at the top of the wall. This allows for a variety of additional possibilities, such as hanging projection screens etc.

Panels are glued and prepared over a full sheet of plywood. One full sheet yields (9) panels with ZERO scrap (just dust). Panels and vertical wall studs are cut on a CNC Router.


Walls are underutilized resources with limited flexibility.


Public spaces are reluctant to unsupervised change. In makerspaces, we promote a sense of 'ownership' of the space/facility to the community. We equip these users with the tools, yet we do not provide the canvas. Obviously we don't want our community drilling into walls, tapping into electrical lines, or removing projector screens - but how can we manage risk, damage, and unapproved modification; while encouraging experimentation, modification and ownership?



Makerspaces aren't supposed to be clean. However, when your makerspace serves a dual function as a workspace & classroom, it's helpful to keep things 'tidy'. In addition, prospective students, donors, and alumni are constantly visiting the space, these potential stakeholders aren't aware that these spaces are typically messy.


Makerspaces need dry-erase boards, projection areas, pin-up spaces, storage areas and more. Accommodating ALL of these needs is too much. As a result, we dedicate wall space for single functions: This is the projection wall, this is the chalk-board wall, this is where we hang our tools etc.




Create a wall system that encourages modification & ownership while eliminating potential hazards.


Wall system should serve as a functional tool for multiple groups/users.


Wall system should encourage the community to take care of their space, and keep experimentation as tidy and safe as possible.


Design and create a modular wall system, that is reconfigurable, flexible, and applicable to each group and space. System should promote ownership within the community, while serving as a functional tool for traditional classroom needs. System should be low-cost, easy to deploy, install, and use.


Horizontal + Vertical Frame

The wall system will utilize overlapping framework with common, low-cost materials; increasing wall strength while removing common hazards.




Removable & reconfigurable wall panels will mount to the underlying vertical framework. Using a CNC Router, (9) wall panels measuring 31.5" x 15.5" will be cut from Birch plywood. This measurement is ideal, as it leaves little/no scrap material, and coordinates with existing wall-stud spacing standards (16" on-center).



Each wall panel includes (4) pre-drilled holes; (2) holes for positioning pins and (2) holes for thumbscrew mounting. Positioning pins & captive bolts are pre-installed (pressure fit) into the base structure's vertical wall studs. Wall panels are installed by positioning their pre-drilled holes over the positioning pins & bolts. After positioning, the user affixes the panel to the wall with (2) brass thumbscrews over the captive bolts.



Design & Function

Panels will include a single-birch face, with a separate material on the opposite face (dry-erase or cork). Allowing users to reconfigure the wall by reversing, moving, or modifying panels into patterns that fit their needs. Promoting customization will promote ownership, while continuing to support functional needs of the space. Setting the wall with all birch-faces facing out, decreases function while increasing aesthetic appeal.


Two installations provided substantial response from users. Iteration #1, installed at Carnegie Mellon University, in IDeATe@Hunt Library's Experimental Fabrication Lab, was completely revised and improved before installing Iteration #2; located at Carnegie Mellon University's Student Housing facility, Morewood Gardens. The most recent iteration is installed at Bethel Park's Independence Middle School.


All materials are low-cost and easy to find. Pine studs form the base structure for the entire system. Mounting to walls with existing studs, or block.



Vertical wall studs are custom milled. Taper pins, captive-bolts, and dry-wall screws are pressure fit, pre-drilled and ready for immediate installation.


The wall system begins with 2" x 4" pine studs, mounted horizontally and anchored into existing wall studs or concrete block. A custom milled plywood stud is anchored vertically, into the horizontal wall studs. This structure reinforces the wall, improving the overall strength and integrity of the system.



Access to existing electrical/data infrastructure is maintained through openings in specific wall panels. These panels are permanently mounted into place. Overlapping horizontal & vertical studs allow users to run cables or wires behind the wall panels, keeping things tidy & safe.


Although the first installation utilized Garnica-brand Regal Birch plywood,  any plywood material (Thickness = 1/2" - 5/8") can be used as a substrate for the wall panels. Cork or dry-erase board (Thickness = 1/8" - 3/16") is glued to the full sheet before milling. Using a 3/8" diameter milling tool, yields (9) wall panels with zero scrap.



1/4" spacing surrounds every panel. This tolerance allows for significant wall defects while eliminating any difficulty in removing or mounting wall panels. Panels are easily positioned over (2) taper-pins & (2) captive-bolt (pre-installed on vertical stud); then mounted with (2) brass thumb nuts


Panels are considered 'consumable'; users may drill, cut, or modify any wall panel to suit various project needs. Installing digital signage, using Kinect controllers, creating fold-out-desktops, embedded computation or touch-light panels are just a few prototyping possibilities. Users are provided with a web-forum to submit/share their creations. Access to original CNC & CAD template filesis also maintained through the web portal.

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Users are encouraged to rearrange the wall panels as necessary. Panels can be removed and used at desktops/tables as a work surface or dry-erase sketch surface.


Mounting or hanging items from the wall is easier and safer than traditional wall mounting, as excessive overlapping studs are easy to find, without the added risk of drilling into electrical lines or damaging existing infrastructure. As a final, flexible option, an aluminum t-slot track is mounted at the top of the wall. T-slot tracks provide a variety of options for hanging or mounting add'l items such as projector screens.




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©2017 BY P. ZACH ALI