Modern dropped ceilings were initially created to hide the building infrastructure, including piping, wiring, and/or ductwork, by creating a plenum space above the dropped ceiling, while allowing access for repairs and inspections. Drop ceilings may also be used to hide problems, such as structural damage. Further, drop out ceilings can also conceal the sprinkler systems while still providing full fire suppression functionality.
An older, less common type of dropped ceiling is the concealed grid system. This type of dropped ceiling employs a method of interlocking panels into each other and the grid with the use of small strips of metal called 'splines', thus making it difficult to remove panels to gain access above the ceiling without damaging the installation or the panels. Normally, these type of ceilings will have a "key panel" (usually in the corner) which can be removed, allowing for the other panels to be slid out of the grid (a series of metal channels called 'z bars') one by one, until eventually removing the desired panel. This type of ceiling is more commonly found in older installations or installations where access to above the ceiling is generally considered unnecessary.
U. S. Patent No. 1,470,728 for modern dropped ceilings was applied for by E. E. Hall on May 28, 1919 and granted on October 16, 1923. Initially modern dropped ceilings were built using interlocking tiles and the only way to provide access for repair or inspection of the area above the tiles was by starting at the edge of the ceiling, or at a designated "key tile", and then removing contiguous tiles one at a time until the desired place of access was reached. Once the repair or inspection was completed, the tiles had to be reinstalled. This process could be very time-consuming and expensive. On September 8, 1958 Donald A. Brown of Westlake, Ohio filed for a patent for Accessible Suspended Ceiling Construction. This invention provided suspended ceiling construction in which access may readily be obtained at any desired location. Patent Number US 2,984,946 A was granted on May 23, 1961.
Dropped ceilings generally conceal many of the functional and structural elements of a building, creating an aesthetic paradigm that discourages the use of functional building systems as aesthetic design elements. Concealing these elements makes the complexity of today's advanced building technologies more difficult to appreciate. It is also more difficult to perform maintenance on or diagnose problems with the concealed systems.
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