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SEP 2018

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the leader September 2018 37 From the new millennium onwards – and especially following the onset of the global financial crisis from 2008 – issues of stakeholder accountability in the context of financial austerity have become increasingly important factors helping to shape the design of financial services HQs. Brand presence is now the key driving force for most businesses and the expression of traditional banking references has become far less relevant. A traditionally conservative approach and an overt global presence have been challenged by the increasing demands of sustainability, flexibility, and even a sense of restraint as key influencers in the designs of HQ buildings for banks. New sensitivities affect HQ design principles Banks are increasingly seeking greater alignment and affinity with their core customers and stakeholders. As a result, in this digital economy, replicated global solutions are becoming outdated and showpiece edifices encapsulating prestige and identity are less relevant. Such solutions often lack any relevance to the specific requirements of local markets and contemporary designs are increasingly guided by contextualism. Banks' head-office buildings previously conceived as expressions of corporate power – and a means for distancing the banks from the customers they were supposed to serve – are now being re-envisioned in terms of how they can be more relevant to their national and cultural international style are being replaced with designs that reflect an open, welcoming and richer aesthetic, one that actively encourages interaction with the building by visitors. One recent example of this trend is the new head office for the National Bank of Oman (NBO) in Muscat, Oman, for which LOM served as architect and designer. This dramatic structure stands on a prominent site near the city's Grand Mosque and the city centre, and takes its inspiration from the history and topography of Oman, though reinterpreted in a radical, contemporary idiom. Externally, the building envelope changes at each floor level to create a natural, stepped profile, rising from a rough-hewn stone base to a clean, distinctive parapet line. The design of the base – which comprises local mountainous landscape. Large, deep blocks mirror the qualities of a natural landform. system – is inspired by the architecture of traditional Omani forts such as Nizwa, Nakhal and Bahla. In addition, generous plantings overhang various external terraces, creating a visible connection with the surrounding landscape. e fficiency also plays a (larger) role In a contrasting but equally significant development, some banks are seeking to consolidate their built assets through a greater efficiency and optimisation of the spaces they currently occupy. They are seeking significant reductions in their built footprint whilst creating a higher quality of functional space that meets the demands of contemporary working patterns; others are aiming to re-purpose space that may have become sub- optimal for their changing requirements. For example, working with project developer NatWest in London, LOM has repurposed a redundant cash-handling facility in Islington to provide a vibrant and varied co-working office space for RocketSpace. Specific elements of the building's history were adapted to fit RocketSpace's needs. The double height of the existing loading bays, for example, was ideal for creating an events space, complete with auditorium, café and mezzanine level; the cash vault was reconfigured as a gaming room. a lso wanted: flexibility for the future Most major banks and financial institutions now look to future- proof their occupied headquarters space through carefully considered design. If implemented in a way that reflects a strong understanding of an organisation's long-term requirements, future changes can be implemented with minimum disruption to accommodate new business groups or even the sub-letting of space to other occupiers. This idea is derived from a more strategic approach to the use of HQ floor space that includes the correct location of data centres, security facilities, cash vaults and other mission-critical activities. It also addresses issues of resilience and disaster-recovery to ensure continued operation of the HQ business through potential risks and disruptions. Banks that have demonstrated these types of strategies include Bank of America, RBS and Tesco Bank. In Dubai, UAE, the practice recently delivered a new regional HQ building for HSBC's Middle East business. Here, some 2,700 staff members were brought together in a technology- friendly, agile workplace environment across 30,000 square meters (323,000 sq. ft.), a move that encourages collaboration and interaction for employees and visitors, and that provides a range of meeting, dining and gym facilities for staff. In addition, the traditional and monotonous grid of linear workstations is being replaced with a more fluid use of space which offers a more interactive approach to working and collaboration. Terms such as 'hive', 'club, 'breakout' and 'chill' are being used to define sub spaces that can support the creation and contraction of groups working in response to occupiers' changing business conditions. Offering enhanced flexibility necessitates a greater understanding of how space is used, especially where the integration of smart building systems allows for a higher degree of communication. This communication is not limited to the head office; state-of-the-art audio-visual capability supports communication across multiple sites and in different jurisdictions. This greater understanding of how banks' HQ space is used supports an optimised approach to the allocation of private offices and meeting rooms; much of this need is dictated by data. b ottom line: it's about people While some designs of new bank HQ buildings will invariably continue to reflect an approach that encapsulates some of the traditional attributes of the financial services sector, the face of banking has changed rapidly and irrevocably in recent years and new buildings and workspaces need to reflect that change; if not, customers will take their business elsewhere. Transparency, flexibility and a demonstrable commitment to customers in local markets form the new guiding principles of design, communicating a bank's values and embodying its brand. Richard Hutchinson is director of London-based LOM, an architecture and design studio.

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