Compound Interests

Gensler’s extensive renovation of an outdated Los Angeles office building enabled Cathay Bank to consolidate its scattered workforce — and, in the process, accomplish much more.
This high-profile rehab along the busy San Bernardino Freeway multiplies the bank’s visibility, attracting new clientele outside its traditional Chinese-American customer base. Equally important, the project resulted in a new energy-saving sustainable headquarters, while delivering a high-quality workplace that’s helped boost bank employee job performance.

A Growth Investment

Cathay Bank, a leading Chinese-American bank, approached Gensler in 2006 to design its new corporate headquarters. The fast-growing company had long outgrown its original Chinatown facility; and Cathay Bank acquired a property along I-10 in El Monte, chosen for its proximity to the bank’s customer and employee base in the Asian enclaves of eastern Los Angeles County.
The site already contained a seven-story, spec-office building completed in 1973. While the San Gabriel Valley location was ideal, the building had deteriorated badly. Rather than demolish the facility and start anew, Gensler took the environmentally preferred option of recycling the structure. Choosing to reuse the building also avoided a year-long environmental review phase that would have been required for new construction. This decision allowed the project to move ahead quickly.

Capital Plans

The original building’s squat proportions and heavy massing were significant hurdles to overcome. Gensler reshaped the building and improved its proportions — all while working around the limitations of the bulky concrete frame. “We were locked into a set of mediocre proportions,” says Design Director David Herjeczki. “But through a series of careful alterations that did not actually add height, we dramatically enhanced the visual prominence of the building.”

The key strategy was to conceal the mechanical penthouse behind a new parapet wall that extends to the east and west ends of the building. This created a strong visual element that complements the new glass curtain wall, while making the building appear tall and slender on the east and west façades, which are readily visible to millions of passing motorists.

Sunny Day Savings

Small windows and horizontal blinds obscured exterior views from the original building. Meanwhile, low-performance tinted glass from the ’70s made the interiors dark, which required lots of interior lighting throughout the day to keep the offices comfortably lit.

All that changed with Gensler’s conversion to a floor-to-ceiling curtain wall that allows daylight to penetrate deep into the building. Now mountain vistas open to full view. In addition, new high-performance glass admits more than double the daylight without the negative consequence of added heat gain. When the sun is bright, 20 percent of the office lights are switched off by perimeter daylight sensing controls. The energy savings yielded by the new curtain wall offset the cost of the system in less than two years.

Green in Green

From the start, Gensler set out to satisfy workplace needs, budget mandates and sustainability objectives. “Our goal is to bring a measure of environmental responsibility to every project,” said Project Architect Peter Barsuk. “The bank has been a good partner in considering opportunities for integrating green technology.”

Choosing to renovate the building instead of demolishing it saved most of the structure’s embodied energy. But the green strategies didn’t stop there. Sustainable upgrades such as high-performance glass, low-flow toilets and enhanced daylighting all deliver operational savings to the bank. Local materials were specified, when possible, along with products and materials with high-recycled content. The bank even pursued ambitious plans for photovoltaic canopies that shade the parking lot — and generate 33 percent of the building’s electricity.

Making “Open Door” Manifest

The office floor layout works hand-in-hand with sustainability objectives and optimal workplace performance. “Our goal was to create a superior workplace, benchmarked against the typical office building,” says Gensler’s Herjeczki. Workstations were shifted to the north side of the building, where floor-to-ceiling glass provides abundant natural light and mountain views. Conference rooms, copy rooms and pantries are stepped back from the south-facing perimeter, which absorbs the hottest daytime sun.

Uniform floor layouts provide flexible office space that can be adapted quickly as Cathay Bank grows and changes. Low partitions allow collaboration within work groups, with counters provided for sharing among different groups. Collective resource areas also provide critical opportunities for social interaction, an important facet of how work gets accomplished at Cathay Bank.

Elegant Welcome

Repurposing of the building entailed the design of a new public lobby that starts with the tailored, confident exterior of the building and conceptually folds it inward. Enduring materials embody the tactile, refined qualities of stone and glass. Gensler organized the space around a stunning, free-standing elevator bank that is wrapped in luminous art glass. The elevators now occupy a position of importance — serving both as an icon of the building and a reference point for wayfinding.

Vernon Mays—Gensler Firmwide Communications

Ryan Gobuty (Gensler—Los Angeles): pages 1, 5f-h, 6c-d, 6f-g (left), 7
John Edward Linden: pages 2a, 4a (right), 4c (right), 5a-d (bottom), 6a, 6e, 6g (right)
David Herjeczki (Gensler—Los Angeles): pages 2b-c, 3a (left), 4a (left), 4c (left + middle), 4e-f
The Cathay Bank Project Team: pages 3a (right)-b, 4b, 5d (top), 5e, 6b, 6h

David Herjeczki (Gensler—Los Angeles)

For more from David Herjeczki, see his article:
Daylighting: Sustainability Considerations in Educational Facilities" (PDF)

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