VOA Associates takes a different angle for banking giant ABN AMRO's regional headquarters in Chicago.
Ned Cramer -- Interior Design, 7/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
In the famous view of Chicago's LaSalle Street, converging in one-point perspective on the monolithic Board of Trade, the neoclassical Indiana limestone facades on either side vary only in the finest of details: an antefix here, a cymatium there. In contrast, one of the street's most venerable financial institutions, LaSalle Bank, occupies a jazz-age tower. For a Chicago banker of the 1930's, the art deco style signaled commercial progress and progressive thinking—a quiet rebuke to the stodgy buildings nearby.
A similarly innovative mind-set guided the design process when the bank's parent company, ABN AMRO, decided to consolidate staff at three different locations, moving everyone to a single building on the booming western frontier of the city's downtown Loop. A wedge of glass and stainless steel, the new tower was designed by DeStefano + Partners. VOA Associates, the architecture firm that had renovated the LaSalle Street landmark in 1994, signed on to handle interiors. Throughout the 21 office floors, the meeting and training facilities, and the ground-floor retail branch of LaSalle Bank—all totaling an astronomical 800,000 square feet—design principal Nicholas Luzietti took a dynamic approach. His informal palette of subtle angles, free-floating overlapping planes, and white surfaces with brightly colored details is refreshingly unbankerly, a major reason that the project won this year's IIDA design award.
Luzietti mapped out the typical office floor to emphasize circulation and place-making. His organization is pure clarity. An elevator lobby sits at the midpoint of a corridor that crosses the floor plate lengthwise. At one end of this corridor, he placed two conference rooms wrapped in pear-wood paneling; at the corridor's other end are a pantry and informal dining area. Color-coded carpet and wall paint indicate different uses: green for relaxation and yellow for business.
Management's glass-fronted internal offices line up in a row from front to back, ringed first by a corridor and then by open office areas along the curtain wall. Here, Luzietti dismissed the generic cubicle in favor of workstations whose 120-degree angles allow them to cluster in groups of three, six, or nine. "We call them T-bones," he says. Among the workstation clusters, he placed teaming areas with white oval tables and orange chairs.
Luzietti repeated the concentric-circle layout for training and meeting facilities on floors 23 and 24. Conference rooms and classrooms occupy the center of the two floor plates, surrounded by a broad passageway that follows the building perimeter to meet at the floating staircase that connects them. Depending on your perspective, the white terrazzo stair ' either rises effortlessly from its plinth or pours down toward the facility's reception desk—a horizontal assemblage of overlapping planes and oblongs very much in the spirit of Chicago's revered Frank Lloyd Wright. Geometric leanings surface again in the stair's canted white focal wall, enlivened by rectangular insets and cutouts painted in bright colors.
Suspended glass panels in softer yellow, green, and blue help to define zones in the staff cafeteria, as do sculptural screens composed of rectangular volumes of gray lightweight foam. Luzietti introduced a few curves in the form of the mammoth stainless-steel pizza oven in the center and the legions of Arne Jacobsen chairs accompanying the long tables at the ends of the carpeted floor. Groups can gather in booths, beneath trellislike canopies of painted MDF. Taken as a whole, the room looks almost as trendy as the restaurants springing up around the West Loop.
Below the 36,000-square-foot cafeteria, DeStefano + Partners designed a lobby in terrazzo, glass, and stainless steel. The cool corporate look gives way to a jazzier aesthetic in the corner of the ground floor that houses VOA's retail branch for LaSalle Bank. Painted in canary yellow or metallic blue, intricately overlapped drywall partitions separate the desks in the customer-service area, but it's an installation marking the entry that truly exhibits VOA's imagination. A wall of stainless steel, punctuated by backlit cutout numbers in a random sequence, evokes both the digital progression of a stock ticker and the informational complexity of the spreadsheets so critical to the multiple deals being done upstairs.