Studios Architecture combines eastern and western signifiers of stability and success in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's Shanghai headquarters.
Julia Lewis -- Interior Design, 5/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
The largest of China's four state-owned commercial banks and the 10th-largest bank in the world, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has some 30,000 branches nationwide. With more than $423 billion in assets, the bank handles China's urban industrial and commercial credit, savings, and settlements, and has also begun dealing in foreign exchange. In recent years, ICBC has aggressively sought to become an international presence and to enhance its competitiveness in advance of China's entry into the World Trade Organization.
For its regional headquarters and branch in Shanghai's burgeoning new Pudong district, ICBC asked the San Francisco office of Studios Architecture to create an interior that reflects the institution's big ambitions. According to Studios' project brief, "ICBC wanted to break from the traditional design for Chinese banks, which generally emphasizes continuity between past and present." Instead, says the firm, the bank wanted a contemporary, Western-style facility that would portray the ICBC as an important member of the present and future world economy. To accomplish this goal, Studios, in association with Team 7 International and Joseph Wong Design Associates, created interior architecture that melds "the classic currency of modern design and a bank's institutional identity." All the while, says Studios principal Thomas K. Yee, the project's spokesman, the team maintained a sensitivity to Chinese traditions and cultural expectations, which influenced the job in numerous ways.
A 28-story, 500,000-sq.-ft. high-rise designed by Fox & Fowle and originally designated for residential use, the bank building is located on a prominent Pudong street. The building's podium, dedicated to a banking hall, employee services, an auditorium, conference rooms, and a dining facility, is almost entirely encased in glass. Inside, the stainless-steel paneled ceiling soars to 30 ft. and multi-colored granite establishes a graphic, patterned floor. "Stone, a prominent element in the design, is a precious and lasting material that exudes stability and endurance," explains Yee. Near the main entry, the floor's swirling pattern anticipates a grand, spiral staircase and an enormous coiled glass and steel sculpture suspended from a conical skylight. A tongue-in-cheek reference to a traditional Chinese paper lantern, the illuminated sculpture punctuates the lobby with a dramatic "exclamation point," says Yee. Visible from the street, particularly at night, the 8,000-sq.-ft. banking hall features a 197-ft.-long, rear-lit onyx wall that stretches the length of the lobby above the banking and loan counters. "In China, the idea of being able to see into a banking hall is quite unusual," says Yee. "The glass façade is a unique gesture that expresses the bank's confidence. The exuberant, illuminated onyx marquis gives the institution a 24-hour identity and presence on the streetscape."
The tower portion of the building reflects traditional Chinese notions of hierarchy, yet underscores the cultural emphasis on hospitality, says the architect. Accordingly, the upper-most floors (26, 27, and 28) are designated for executive offices while the tower's lower and middle levels, the designs of which were overseen by Team 7, are used for divisional offices. Guests are received on the penthouse floor, where the V.I.P. conference room, screening room, and dining room are located, along with a historical display about the bank. Emblematic of Chinese hospitality, the most luxurious and commodious spaces are reserved for guests, says Yee. The bank president and senior vice-presidents occupy the 27th floor, where they have access to an executive conference room and lounge; vice-presidents reside on the 26th floor. "Each of these levels has its own identity, but to reinforce the international modern aesthetic that prizes integrated design over dissimilar external and internal spaces, we carried the exterior's materials palette of glass, stainless steel, and stone into many interior areas," say the architects.
The executive floors are unified and distinguished by "an internal wood box concept" derived from the Chinese notion that wood is a significant material, "often used to contain a gift or something precious," says Yee. A spare, box-like volume, made of richly textured, warm toned anigré, appears on each of the upper floors, and suggests important passages from one area to another. On the 27th floor, for instance, the box houses anterooms that signal the dramatic transition from these cocoon-like interiors to spacious perimeter executive offices. Contemporary furnishings complement the executive floors' grand proportions, which in turn reinforce an impressive and prosperous image.
Infused with traditional Chinese elements, the bank's slick, contemporary design relates to a Western vernacular and provides compelling evidence of China's recent economic transformations.
The Studios Architecture team also included project architect Christopher Mitchell. Studios worked closely with Team 7 International's principal Jack W.J. Tam and project designer Lim Chan. Principal Joseph Wong and project manager Jason Hu of Joseph Wong Design Associates acted as local architects and client liaison for the project
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