In Review: Skyfold’s Classic 51

Skyfold’s product review was held at the newly completed St. Regis, The Palm, allowing us to drink in the design and beauty of this innovative product amidst such elegant settings. Joining us to review the Classic™ 51 retractable, folding wall were designers Amani Al Ibrahim from Kristina Zanic Consultants and Julie Djohan from ema. Here is what we learnt…

We honestly cannot put this better than Skyfold does themselves. The acoustics leader in vertically folding retractable walls describes their products as so much more than space dividers.

‘Our walls are innovative, custom, fully automatic, premium and flexible space solutions that allow architects, contractors, and end-users to redefine how a space is used.’

Based in Canada and officially part of the dormakaba group, Skyfold brings over 30 years of experience globally in the retractable walls industry with over 8,000 projects. Having started their Middle East operations in 2004, the brand is now a trusted name in the region in the retractable walls space, covering all of Middle East and Africa.

For this review, we met with the Skyfold team in Dubai, at the new and gorgeous St Regis on The Palm, Jumeirah, to feel out the Classic™ 51, one of their most popular products.

The Review Crew

Above from left: George Philip, Vice President, EMEA, dormakaba; Uzma Khan, Regional Manager, Middle East, Africa and India, Skyfold; Julie Djohan, Design Director, ema.; Amani Al Ibrahim, Partner/Executive Manager at Kristina Zanic Consultants

Skyfold’s Classic™ 51 – Subtle, Quiet, Quick and Easy

While traditional movable walls are used for only space division, Skyfold brings a whole new design and functionality element. The Classic™ 51 is a fully automated system that folds and stores neatly into the ceiling, avoiding the need for pockets. It is a lightweight system that also allows you to save a lot on structural steel on large projects.

Another benefit, and one that really resonated with us, is how it can play a key role in the ambience of an environment. “When it deploys and folds, it really gives a sense of wonder and awe to the people in that space,” says Uzma Khan, Regional Manager, Middle East, Africa and India, Skyfold. “Event planners absolutely love it! Many hotels promote Skyfold walls as an asset to their event space. And it adds bonus points from a social media perspective, as we have seen a lot of people taking photos and recording the big reveal!”

While all Skyfold walls fold vertically into a ceiling storage pocket, the Classic moves a bit differently. The Classic uses a lift structure that involves pantographs – a system that allows it to reach much higher ceiling heights than the Zenith and Zenith Premium models, making it the ideal solution for ballrooms and event spaces. For this reason, and many more, is why Skyfold walls are popular with convention centers, hospitality venues, auditoriums, training facilities, corporate flexible spaces, meeting rooms and just about any space that requires quick and effortless acoustic separation! The gorgeous aesthetics are an excellent bonus.

Unlike a manual system, the seals in this product are all automated, which is one of the main advantages of the Skyfold walls. In a manual wall system, you will find people moving each panel and cranking up the seal, which can lead to damage if not done properly. Because there’s no manual intervention with Skyfold’s system, there’s little to no room for damage in that regard.

Other key features include no floor, wall tracks or visible hinges, and an easy-to-use, key switch or digital keypad operation. The Classic™ 51 is surprisingly quiet, with its elegant lightweight panels lifting gently. Furthermore, it can be installed in stepped or sloped spaces, and comes equipped with a safety obstruction sensor that ensures maximum safety.

When it comes to acoustics, the Skyfold products deliver an impressive acoustic performance that really adds to the return of investment (ROI) of the product. When its seals are activated, it provides superior acoustics, ranging from 51 to 60 STC. What adds to the credibility is that the acoustics are tested on the full working model, not just a single panel. (Most manufacturers only test a single panel and extrapolate to the whole product. It’s common practice but only offers a theoretical value).

“There’s an example I love to use to illustrate the high acoustic performance of this product,” says George Philip, Vice President, EMEA, dormakaba. “You can have a party on one side of the wall, and total silence on the other. It really is that good!”

Amaani: To be honest, I was impressed just hearing about the features even before seeing it. Automatic, maintenance-free, mix and matches… it all sounded great! But seeing it in person really drove the point home. Whether you’re a designer, engineer, or end-user, I think we can all appreciate how well developed this product is. Not only is it sleek but also works well in most settings, whether exhibition halls or something more formal.

You have to appreciate how much thought they’ve put into the acoustics as well. The range of finishes definitely adds an oomph factor. What I do recommend is exploring new ways of applying these finishes. But the fact that so much of it can be customised is definitely a big bonus for us designers.

Julie: I’ve seen a lot of Skyfold videos, but I was blown away when I saw the wall in action. I love its sleekness and that you don’t see any tracks protruding out from the floor or elsewhere. Also, for such a big, heavy-looking product, I didn’t expect it to be so graceful! It’s much more sophisticated than it seems. There’s certainly a wow factor.

It’s a much better experience in comparison to manual walls, where you see people having to come in and push or pull the movable walls. This is clearly a 21st-century product. Everything is done pretty much with the press of a button.

There are certainly a lot of options with the aesthetics, but at the end of the day, it’s a highly technical product. And because of what it’s designed to do, you have to be practical with the finishes as well. It’s great that there’s a team available on ground to consult with on this matter.

Finishing Touches

Your standard finish options include fabric, vinyl, paint, metals, wood veneer, plastic laminate, graphics, murals, and even white marker board (an LTD favourite!). And of course, custom finishes are available too. What’s more, finishes can be mixed and matched – you can have a different finish on each panel as well!

We were particularly impressed by a new line of fabrics, made from recycled plastic bottles, that is also completely biodegradable. In fact, when it comes to sustainability, Skyfold has several strong suits. They have been involved in several projects that have been LEED certified and contributing to the WELL and BREEAM certification. Plus, their products come with complete environmental and health product declarations that are available on their website as well as on Love That Design. Skyfold products are manufactured in their ISO14000:2015 certified facilities.

The Cost of Quality

While Skyfold’s products do come at a slightly higher but reasonable price point, it is important to compare apples to apples. And there are few products to really compare it to. Most products in the market are either just manually operated heavy partitions, or severely lacking in the automation and sophistication in technology. That’s where the price difference really comes about. Plus, there is little to no maintenance required with Skyfold, and a much longer life span, making it a reliable product.

An important point to remember is that each Skyfold wall is custom designed and manufactured as per project specifications and priced accordingly. There is also a ten-year acoustic warranty, a two-year warranty and a local partner available for after-sale services.

Our Thoughts

If there’s anything we learned from our conversation with Uzma and George, it’s this: Skyfold really knows what they’re doing. They’ve nailed down the formula for developing high-quality, movable walls, and they truly understand the expectation from an end-user’s perspective.

Amaani: The sustainability features are impressive. I didn’t think a product like this would offer much. But to know it’s been on several LEED Platinum projects makes a big difference. Clients are also looking to be educated in this matter. The acoustics on the other hand are certainly great. I don’t think competing products think through acoustics a lot. I can certainly see why it’s used in hospitality so much. It helps that you can have a product like this and not have to invest in other acoustic products. I really love the overall mechanism and how it all comes together. Overall I think it’s a great product that you just can’t go wrong with.

Julie: Sustainability is so important to every stakeholder in our industry today. It makes sense to pick products that offer strong sustainability values. It’s also important to note that products like these are long term investments, and they must be evaluated in the same way. So strong acoustics, sustainability, low maintenance – all of these make a big difference in the long run. My favorite part about this product is it’s sleekness. I’m sure clients will also appreciate this and will be willing to invest, considering the strong ROI that you can get from it.

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