In 2001, Austrian architect Hans Hollein completed a brave new building for Interbank in Lima, Peru. Hollein, who won the Pritzker Prize in 1985 as a pioneer of playful postmodernism, didn’t forfeit the chance to do something radical: He sculpted the facade of the highway-facing tower like a sail and clustered angled volumes — including a daringly cantilevered box — around it. The problem, however, is that despite the off-kilter walls and corkscrew stairs inside, the building was designed to function in a completely conventional manner. Like the headquarters of so many corporate juggernauts, it had an austere, imposing lobby at the ground and labyrinths of hierarchical offices and boardrooms above.
Two decades ago, that interior scheme worked; more recently, not so much. A new generation took over the company, expanded the business into new areas, doubled down on design and was intent on projecting a friendlier, more inviting face to both employees and clients. Looking for help, Carlos Rodríguez-Pastor — whose father commissioned the Hollein building, and who is now the chairman and CEO of Interbank parent company Intercorp — began his search for an architect who could sensitively transform it.
“He has a vision for the company to be much more entrepreneurial and really focused on the middle class, rather than on traditional banking,” says Dan Wood, who co-founded WORKac (the New York architecture firm that got the job) with his wife Amale Andraos. “They have gone into education, healthcare, retail stores and a division — La Victoria Lab, or LVL — that sometimes works with IDEO on new business plans. The architecture had been designed as a corporate building for a corporate bank, so he wanted to open it up.”
As a first step, Rodríguez-Pastor asked WORKac to focus on the 3,000-square-metre ground floor and 1,100-square-metre outdoor space around it. “They realized the ground floor was completely underutilized,” Wood says. “Interbank was in various buildings in Lima, and they had people spread out in branches across the country but didn’t have any space for these people to work when they came from other buildings and towns.”
Within the Hollein-designed shell, WORKac conceived a series of flexible, inviting spaces featuring supersize custom furniture elements that the firm envisioned functioning almost like a village. “It’s an urban approach to interiors where it almost becomes a little city,” Wood says, adding that the architects had explored similar ideas when designing the New York office of creative agency Wieden+Kennedy, which they completed in 2014. At the centre of Intercorp’s new ground floor is a circular gathering space set off by wood inset in a terrazzo floor, where lounge chairs and small tables can be easily repositioned for casual seating. “That’s the central square or piazza around which everything happens,” says Wood.
Radiating out from that point are a wide variety of meeting and work spaces. There are small-scale glass-walled meeting rooms for team brainstorming; an open meeting area that can be enclosed by acoustic curtains, and which is also equipped with speakers and a projector integrated into the ceiling; blue arched banquettes that provide a place to focus while remaining open to colleagues; and bleacher-like seating (which WORKac refers to as the “tribune”) formed by circular wooden elements that look more like tree stumps or pilings than stairs. A long composition of travertine boxes creates both a work surface and bench seating near a retractable screen that provides overflow space for a nearby auditorium when things get really busy.
“We’ve been interested in work culture for some time,” says Andraos, “so we had already focused on this idea of different scales of meeting, and different environments in which to meet, and being able to have a moment of privacy without making it a sea of offices.” Near the entrance, the architects created a café that’s open to the public, where people who work in the building and visitors alike can mingle over coffee. Throughout, WORKac sought to bring in plant life, incorporating a green wall in the lobby and a trellis where vines climb to a skylight. That includes the “greenhouse,” a sun-flooded glass room that extends onto an outdoor terrace filled with plants, seating and tables, and banquettes that double as giant planters.
Out on the terrace, which was previously unused, the architects defined seating areas with steel pergolas and more tall concrete planters that help buffer the noise and view of the highway. A new semicircular structure made from ribbed pink-painted concrete — with a matching perforated metal spiral stair — contains a bar for outdoor functions, like the speeches that Rodríguez-Pastor makes when he rings a bell to signal the start of a new business year. The bar’s geometries mirror those of the tribune, the two elements situated back to back in a playful manner. The roof above the bar provides a place for DJs to spin tunes.
Although all of it was designed in 2019, before the pandemic struck, and completed in 2021, the project seems eerily prescient about the future of work (WORKac is now refurbishing the top two floors of the building, where the executive boardroom is located). For Intercorp employees, it has been nothing less than transformative. “The beautiful thing about post-pandemic work is that you don’t need to be sitting in the office for eight hours a day like you used to,” says Aurelia Alvarado, the managing director of La Victoria Lab. “You can use spaces in a more intentional way, for co-creation sessions, strategic planning or brainstorming, or when you have to solve complex problems.”
At the same time, Alvarado says, opening the building up to the surrounding community should have concrete benefits. “The building was seen as very corporate and not inviting to the public,” she says. “But now, with the coffee shop, we want to bring the public in and showcase that Intercorp and Interbank are open and transparent. We also show part of our culture. We’re all trying to achieve a purpose, which is to make Peru the best place to raise a family in Latin America.”
Transforming the sparse interiors of a Hans Hollein building into an urban village, WORKac has also conjured a sense of place in the bank HQ.