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New Office Banks on It

Rendering of the loft, which seems to float above the lobby, is anchored into the floor plate above.
This loft, which appears to float above the lobby, is anchored into the floor plate above. It creates a mezzanine level between the first and second floors at the landing of a new stairway. © Gensler

Gensler’s Newport Beach Office, a dramatic repurposing of a former bank, features an innovative floor plan that encourages collaboration.

May 21, 2013—For the second time in as many years, Gensler, a global architecture firm, has undertaken a dramatic renovation of space in a prominent California building formerly occupied by a bank to create innovative workspace for the firm’s designers.

The changes are sweeping. What remains of the bank that once occupied 4675 MacArthur Court in Newport Beach, California—aside from the structural elements—is approximately 3 percent of the mechanical systems.

“We gutted what you could imagine was a 1990s bank space, [converting it] into a very creative, collaborative, innovative space,” says James Young, AIA, a principal of Gensler. “We exposed the structure. We’re architects, and we wanted people to really have a sense for how things get put together or assembled.”

The building is one of two 15-story office towers in a development in Newport Beach. The high-profile complex is close to John Wayne Airport. Gensler renovated 23,000 sq ft, occupying the first and second floors of one tower.

The renovation went well beyond cosmetics, as the team opened the second-story concrete floor plate to facilitate the installation of an open stairway that creates better vertical integration. KPFF Consulting Engineers, headquartered in Seattle, developed the plan to remove a 20 ft by 30 ft section of the second floor plate without impacting the large structural girder in that section of the building.

“There are two main girders that support this tower,” Young says. “I couldn’t move the girders, but we could move all of the secondary structure. The girder is exposed as it slices through the opening. The stair floats underneath the girder engaging the individual.” 

Interior rendering of building which displays the new stairway

To create the new stairway, crews removed a 20 by 30 ft section
of the second floor plate. One of the building’s main structural
beams bisects the opening. © Gensler

The design team capitalized on the building’s 17 ft high deck-to-deck dimension to add a mezzanine above the lobby, at the landing of the stairs. The 15 ft by 20 ft room, known as the loft, features a wall of glass facing the lobby and appears to float above the space. “Structurally that was really difficult just to get the headroom, there is only one spot in this structure where we could put it,” Young says. “We loved this idea. It’s very cozy, quiet, and residential.”

The loft is connected to the second-floor plate with a steel fastening system. The design team worked diligently to minimize the structure’s weight to enable it to hang from the floor plate above.

Exposing the structure of the space placed a greater emphasis on the building’s mechanical systems, which were carefully replaced to function as design elements. “It’s one thing to expose a ceiling, but once you do that, you have to make sure that everything above that ceiling is positioned properly, aligned, balanced, with a harmony of what’s happening below,” Young says.

The team used building information modeling (BIM) software to help solve the puzzle, but found that even that technological leap hasn’t made construction an exact science, Young says. “Every piece of conduit, duct, or plumbing has to line up perfectly,” Young says. “At times the model would tell us what we wanted and the field would not align. We had to go through a number of different layouts and field modifications to make sure things were working out properly.”

The building’s open floor plan is the result of extensive workplace analysis and focus groups with the staff. The young staff members heavily favored open collaborative spaces, Young says. He likens the environment to a home—openings into rooms, but few actual doors. The openness extends to the exterior, as the designers aligned internal elements to a 40 ft diameter fountain in front of the structure and green space behind it. The office, which opened in April, has drawn positive reviews.

“It’s really great,” Young says. “It’s created a new vibe. It was important for us to connect to that Newport Beach lifestyle.”



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