The winning proposal broke away from the accepted pattern of bank design and made no concession to the conservatism of commercial architecture in Argentina
Originally published in AR February 1963, this piece was republished online in May 2015
The building, just starting construction, is the outcome of a limited competition initiated in 1960. It will provide the Bank of London and South America with a new administrative headquarters for Argentina and Paraguay and new accommodation for the bank’s principal branch in Buenos Aires. It will house a staff of 1,500. Completion is expected early in 1965. The building will cost approximately £2 million.
The site is that of the bank’s existing central office, which the bank has occupied since a few years after its foundation in 1862. It lies in the main banking district of the city, only a block away from the Plaza de Mayo. A seven-storey department-store nearby has been bought by the bank to house its various departments while the rebuilding is taking place.
The competition was organized by Mr. Gerald Wakeham, staff architect to the Bank of London and South America, and it was decided to limit it to architects practising in Argentina. Four firms were invited to compete, and a comprehensive brief was prepared based on an appraisal of future trends in local banking operations and in particular on the peculiar requirements of Argentinian banks resulting from the custom of payments by cash rather than by cheque. The remarkable number of 133 cashiers’ positions had to he provided in this one branch, necessitating an unusually generous allocation of public space and circulation.
The winning design, by Sanchez Elia, Peralta Ramos, Agostini and Clorindo Testa, accepted the challenge offered by this brief to break away from the accepted pattern of bank design and made no concession to the conservatism of commercial architecture in Argentina, as compared with other South American countries. The basic idea in the winning design was to obtain the cohesion required between departments, as well as the necessary intercommunication, by placing them all within one enclosing envelope. The entire volume of the building, covering an area of 35,000 sq. ft. and rising to a height of 75 ft., has been treated as one banking hall. Within it there are no intermediate floors in the conventional sense, but a series of interconnected levels, facilitating communication between departments and incidentally creating unusual interior vistas. The three upper levels are suspended from the roof, and the two levels immediately above the ground floor are cantilevered in a form of bridge construction, giving an interior largely free of supporting columns. The upper suspended levels are capable of future extension by means of precast slabs.
‘Within it there are no intermediate floors in the conventional sense, but a series of interconnected levels, facilitating communication between departments and incidentally creating unusual interior vista’
There are two main vertical circulation systems, one for the public and one for hank employees. They are planned round lift-shaft structures that also contribute to the support of the main roof slab from which the upper levels are suspended. The ground floor, which is raised above street level, is linked by escalators with the two levels immediately above it and with the first basement. These are the areas in which public traffic is heaviest.
The roof slab, in addition to the support it obtains from the lift structures, is carried on the party walls and on the external concrete columns with their linking membranes. The latter also serve as brise-soleil, since behind them the building is encased in a complete wall of glass. The main entrance is at the corner of the site and is marked by a deep recess. Within this recess is a small independent structure housing the entrance to the safe-deposit, which operates outside banking hours. There are three basements, extending to a depth of 40 ft. below ground. These contain an Underground security area, allowing customers undertaking large cash transactions to drive their own cars into the building; also a base for the bank’s own fleet of armoured cars. Above the main roof level are staff restaurants and club-rooms.
‘The unorthodox external expression caused a good deal of local controversy when the result of the competition was announced’
Construction of the building is reinforced concrete, with concrete surfaces exposed on the outside, the formwork being of plastic sheets. The unorthodox external expression caused a good deal of local controversy when the result of the competition was announced and the designs were exhibited in Buenos Aires-by the Sociedad Central de Arquitectos, hut the designs, having been promptly accepted by the promoters of the competition, were subsequently accepted by the local planning authorities and the version now being executed differs only in minor respects from the competition design.
Bank Headquaters in Buenos Aires
Originally published: AR February 1963, pp122-124
Architects: Sanchez Elia, Peralta Ramos, Agostini And Clorindo Testa