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Banking on the future – An innovative bank head quarters in Oman by Atkins and Geyer

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An innovative bank hq by Atkins and Geyer

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Employee retention is possibly one of thebiggest considerations in business today. The annual cost in lost revenue due to staff turnover is in the billions of dollars.

So how do corporations ensure their employees remain engaged and productive? One solution that has proven popular with several large companies seeks to blur the line between work-life balance.

Bank Muscat, the largest financial services provider in Muscat, Oman, has applied this thinking to its new offices, says Rohan Thotabaduge, WS Atkins International & Co senior design architect.

"As a nation, Oman spends many millions every year to educate and train its citizens at the most prestigious institutions in the world. On average these professionals spend only two years working in Oman before relocating overseas.

"In a bid to retain these valued individuals, and to keep that investment in Oman, Bank Muscat has applied the world's best practice in the design of its new headquarters and offices."

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In keeping with local architecture, the building is low-rise and arranged in a loose configuration of four L- and U-shaped structures used to create a series of shaded courtyards. Internally, these four buildings are connected by a double-height glazed ‘street,' which is the first indication of the work-social nature of the building. An interactive, social space, the street houses a range of cafes, retail outlets, a gymnasium, crèche and a branch bank – all of which are available to the public.

"A concerted effort was made through the design to create an all-inclusive environment, that would encourage the 2000-odd staff to view the space as an extension of their social lives, not just as a place to come to work," says Thotabaduge.

"Employees can begin their day with a visit to the gymnasium and enjoy a spa or sauna, have a leisurely breakfast at one of the restaurants and pick up their dry-cleaning – all before sitting at their desks at 8.30am. And then, at the end of the day, they can meet up with friends and family to watch a movie in the auditorium or enjoy an evening meal."

One of the main drivers of the project was to impart a sense of vibrancy within the building, and the active nature of the street achieves this. To ensure that vibrancy wasn't lost within the corporate zone, leading design practice Geyer was commissioned to take the strategic direction and apply that to an interior scheme, says workplace sector leader, Laurie Aznavoorian.

"The physical delineation between the public on the ‘street' and the Bank Muscat work environment has enabled greater opportunity to move freely between work floors and to use the amenity spaces provided in the building without the need to pass through security barriers. This change in itself is significant in the impact it makes to building functions and interaction between people."

Interconnecting stairs and sky bridges were all added to activate the workspace and provide additional opportunities for connection throughout the environment. This encourages people to move across and between floors to access breakout hubs, while also allowing for neighbourhoods to develop around local hubs and utility areas.

"All of these design elements create a physical environment that actively supports one of the banks' business drivers of aspiring to greater connection, collaboration and communication," says Aznavoorian. "In addition, by providing a rich variety of spaces and empowering people to work in the place that best supports the task at hand the space provokes and inspires its occupants, encouraging innovation and supporting the bank's objectives to be entrepreneurial."

Regional influence was also very important in the design of the Bank Muscat workplace.

"References to Islamic architecture present in the building have been extended to the workplace environment, and can be seen in the screening elements introduced in communal areas. Various other aspects of the design reference the Omani landscape – the main street's water feature recalls desert wadis, the design of interconnecting stairways mimics the sharp edges of the desert caves, and the introduction of mashrabiya serve to link public and private areas using yet another local reference," says Aznavoorian.

"In addition secondary breakout areas adopted colour, material and design references from the various parts of the world in which Bank Muscat operates – for example, one breakout area has been designed as a New York loft, another has a British tea room aesthetic, while yet another displays Scandinavian influences."

As is increasingly common with modern corporate buildings, Bank Muscat has a number of environmentally sustainable initiatives built in.

"Heat-absorbing low-E thermally broken double glazing helps mitigate solar gain, reducing the dependence upon artificial cooling," says Thotabaduge. "Similarly, smart lighting ensures the interior remains at a constant 500 lux – dimming automatically in periods of high natural light. Floor spans of no more than 18m allow ample natural light into office interiors. Also, sensor lighting and taps ensure natural resources are not wasted."

First published date: 15 March 2012

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Credit List

Location Bank Muscat Headquarters Building
Architect WS Atkins International & Co
Interior design strategy Geyer
Interior design execution Geyer supported by Design and Arches, Muscat
Construction company Galfar Engineering & Contracting
Civil, mechanical and electrical engineer WS Atkins International & Co
Quantity surveyor Hanscomb
Earthworks Galfar Engineering & Contracting
Landscaping WS Atkins International & Co
Fire consultant Tenables
Cladding Terracotta rainscreen cladding from Moeding
Roof Traditional insulated concrete roof
Facade Wicona curtain walling system
Glazing system Pilkington K anti-sun green low-E coated thermally broken double glazing
Signage Momentum; John Anthony Signs
Lift services Otis lifts supplied by BEC
Partitioning system Gypsum partitioning system by Galfar
Windows and doors White oak veneer
Hardware D Line ironmongery supplied by Khimji Ramdas
Tiling Johnson Tiles from Khimji Ramdas
Flooring Carpet tiles by Interface from SFO
Ceiling Armstrong Ceilings from Delta
Veneers White oak
Paints Jotun Paint
Heating/air conditioning Trane supplied by Airmech
Bathroom fittings Roca from Khimji Ramdas