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Beachside Banking

Los Angeles-based (fer) studio helps Bank of Manhattan go with the flow with a contemporary redesign of the bank’s headquarters and flagship branch.

By Elianne Halbersberg

Los Angeles-based (fer) studio helps Bank of Manhattan go with the flow with a contemporary redesign of the bank’s headquarters and flagship branch.

Located near the sandy coastline of El Segundo, Calif., the Bank of Manhattan Beach’s headquarters and flagship branch entered 2011 ready for an upgrade. In order to create a more comfortable feel within the banking establishment, and at the same time build a contemporary brand, the bank—now known simply as the Bank of Manhattan—dedicated last year to interior and exterior refinements.

The bank’s goals were to improve and expand their existing space, including linking the entrances, offices, work areas and conference rooms into a more cohesive whole. Los Angeles-based (fer) studio (form, environment, research) was hired for the design project and also to help the bank ramp up its image.

“Their atmosphere is very relaxed and beach-oriented, even though they dropped the ‘Beach’ reference,” says Christopher Mercier, design principal and partner with (fer) studio. “They had already moved away from teller glass, and we presented a look that was more hotel concierge than bank.”

To achieve this look, (fer) studio “wiped clean and redid” the central space. “The offices are laid out in four zones with departments, and each one has workstations” says Mercier. To create a feeling of transparency, pocket-type windows were installed on some of the office walls, while exterior glass brings in natural light.

In the main area, large wooden lounge chairs with rosewood veneer were placed next to the open-configuration teller stations. Leather-and-chrome chairs were placed in the center of the bank area, adding to the comfortably elegant ambience, along with benches and built-in rosewood-and-limestone desks designed by (fer) studio. The overall space was given extra warmth through the use of stained rosewood veneer, stained alder ceilings, brown basalt stone paver and tile floors—all in keeping with the feel of the Manhattan Beach pier.

The rich brown motif extends into the boardroom floors and chairs, the building’s exterior and the wood ceiling that winds its way down the corridor and ties together all of the rooms. “If you walk through the bank, it’s all a connected space,” says Mercier. “The ‘pier ceiling’ achieves that and visually connects everything.”

The bank had office space on multiple floors, and so while (fer) studio worked in phases, employees relocated accordingly so that remodeling and business could continue uninterrupted. Upon completion, all staff moved to the main floor, and the area was expanded to accommodate additional people. “We got lucky in that their main server room did not move, so that kept things operational,” says Mercier. “We added an additional server area in the new zone so they could tie into that and run a link to the main server area, but because that main server never moved, they were able to fluctuate the cable so that everything would flow.”

The original first floor space was positioned toward the end of a corridor and near a large elevator lobby, with the official bank entrance awkwardly positioned in a corner. “On one side of the lobby you went into the bank, and on the other side you went into the bathroom,” says Mercier. A vacant, partially gutted space located adjacent to the bank provided the solution. “That space had frontage on what we’ll call a main pedestrian exterior walk leading to the center courtyard of the main building,” says Mercier. “So the expansion did a couple of things for the bank. Obviously, it gave them more space, but another main element is that it gave them a ‘face’ in the building.”

(fer) studio created a corporate entrance off of the interior lobby in a common area and converted the original entrance into an employee entrance. “They also wanted to push out the front of the existing building and create an actual ATM location and branch entry face, if you will, for their customers,” says Mercier. The challenge was to create the facades and entrances and link everything internally so that the space would flow. Bringing together the Y-shape of the main corporate entrance, the front face of the building, and the back area and boardroom, (fer) studio created a “main street” of sorts throughout the 15,000-square-foot space, connecting the public area, corporate area and other departments.

A landscaped plaza and steel canopy integrate with the larger façade of the existing building, while at the same time drawing attention to the new entrance space, which also houses a well-lit, stone-clad ATM box with nighttime overhead lighting and bollards along the walkway. (fer) studio also maximized an existing pedestrian walk that extends from the street corner to an outdoor courtyard within the structure. “At lunchtime it’s a main thoroughfare for a lot of people and there are restaurants along the way,” says Mercier. “We created the entrance so that we could engage with that walk and have it become a pedestrian-oriented front.”

The yearlong project transformed Bank of Manhattan from a formal, corporate entity to a more relaxed banking center that promises to more successfully engage the community. “We created a certain transparency so that it didn’t feel as if everyone working there was behind a wall,” says Mercier. “We were trying to break down the barriers, and we were able to do that in a number of ways.”

2141 Rosecrans Avenue
Suite 1100
El Segundo, CA 90245
(310) 606-8000

Project TEAM
(fer) studio
1159 East Hyde Park Blvd.
Inglewood, CA 90302
(310) 672-4749