Location: Guatemala City
Architects/Interior Designers: Studio Domus
Constructor/Interior constructor: Grupo G/Studio Domus
Project Area: 37,143 sq ft / 3,451.95 m2
Project Year: Design/Completion 2009/2011
Photographs: Marko Bradich
After over twenty-five years of use, this building was in a precarious state and did not represent this prestigious financial institution. The spaces were inadequate and lacked state-of-the-art technology to have constant meetings with important people from Central American private institutions or governments. This bank, with headquarters in Honduras, has offices in each country of the region. In 2006, a bid began to completely remodel the building but the project was cancelled because of the global economic crisis of 2008. The scope was proposed again and after almost a year of waiting it was launched to a dozen participants, and afterwards awarded to Grupo G and Studio Domus in 2009.
The program was ambitious for such an architectural piece, because it required a complete change of its interior and remodeling of the facade that had to look like the postmodern style of the Honduras headquarters. Even though this style represents the 80s, for the bank it expressed an institutional image important to keep.
The project is a building property of BCIE, located in one of the most valuable areas in Guatemala City. Its proximity to the best hotels and international airport resulted in remodeling instead of relocating their offices.
The main facade is made up of a sole volume composed of concrete blocks, covered by color impregnated concrete tiles. A sealed, aluminum- tinted, bronze-colored glass was used as the enclosure, which repels sunrays and minimizes loss of air conditioning. The volume acquires an elegant horizontality through the ashlars and lintels of exposed concrete. In the rest of facades, most of the area is taken up by screen walls, which ample windows allow to shower the interior with natural light.
The original front plaza wasn't functional because the visitors came in by the building's basement and was only accessible to pedestrians. The architectural solution was integral with the urbanism implemented in this sector of the city. Guatemala City's Municipality expanded and remodeled the sidewalks for the whole sector, which coincided with the front of the project. Ramps were designed in the square for easy access for the disabled and new security barriers were proposed, subtly incorporated as window boxes. After extensive demolishing and construction, the plaza is now the entrance for all visitors and is even used for formal events.
Coming in by the main entrance you find yourself in the heart of the building: the central atrium. This three-story section is organized by leaving Country Management and customer service offices on the first floor; Guatemala Direction on the second floor with the Boardroom, and on the third floor, support team and training rooms.
The atrium is, without a doubt, the most representative element of this place. The contrast between the exposed concrete and smooth white surfaces creates an effect that is in some way, contradictory to this corporate environment. Indirect light creates a visual levitation of all this modern space.
The main change in the interior resided in total elimination of the solid wood panels, justified by an excessive use of privacy, which also provoked great darkness towards the center of the building. Management accepted the incorporation of engraved crystal panels that positively influenced the final result of the project.
As spaces were divided with glass panels, the furniture had to be carefully selected in each area. Along the main waiting areas, classical pieces were chosen from Herman Miller, such as "Eames Walnut Stools" and "Eames Molded Plywood Chairs".
One of the major problems BCIE had was the accumulation of many different styles of furniture, collected through its 25 years of operation. Now the assistants' workstations and desks all have the same finish and set to take advantage of natural light with small panels between them. All furniture, materials and finishes, are combined, which results in a sober and dominant architectural harmony.
The exterior light is reflected by the perimeter windows and by the central atrium. The interior gardens refresh everything.
The meeting rooms were not only scarce but also poorly equipped. The furniture itself blocked the view and natural light. Now the walls are placed parallel to the light and painted ivory. The crystal panels are perpendicular to the light, creating an effect that allows people to be seen among the corridors and the conference rooms through the glass, but in a pattern of horizontal lines.
In all the areas a prevailing sobriety can be appreciated on the finishes, which obtains a formal yet relaxed work environment.
Around the central atrium and providing access to the second floor, a concrete spiral staircase towers above an interior garden. This beautiful staircase dates from the building's origin, which is why the wood and ashlars were restored. The stairs were covered in a dark carpet with a modern design.
The ornamental plants were changed by medium height and more resistant to the interior climate trees, visually interconnected with the exterior garden?s vegetation.
The previous Boardroom had a weakly defined identity and an aesthetic aspect that caused the visitors to go back to the 70s. In the new room, the same materials used on the rest of the building weren't used because this space was meant to have more elegance and importance. The modern wood ceiling and suspended lamps were a creative solution that gave more emphasis to the place's height. Abstractly, the far wall looks like an imposing curtain so it was designed and built with a variety of volumes of different depths and textures to achieve this impression. Finally, the central piece that attracts the most attention is the majestic boardroom table accompanied by twenty exquisite Aeron chairs.
Within this building, a deck of acrylic undulating panels stands out, providing much natural light and reaching the first floor of the central atrium. For the area's floor, a highly resistant seal that reflects light to all the areas was used.
Along this vast space nine suspended lamps were placed at different heights, which resulted in a spatial sculpture element.
Likewise, you can hear the soft sound coming from the fish tank, transmitting calm to the entire building and making this a memorable place for all its visitors.
Finally, the team of architects and engineers that carried out this project achieved a surprisingly modern and current result without losing sight of the elegance that an institution as traditional as BCIE called for. Also, the blend of classic and modern pieces makes this an eclectic place with a good corporate taste. This building's rescue, the use of sustainable and recyclable materials, and the good use of natural light make the Green Bank policy that this entity promotes, a reality for its users.