As companies around the globe rethink their office spaces for a pandemic-inflected future, one common approach is to make the typically stuffy office environment a bit better connected to nature. When a viral infection is spread through the air, the simple act of opening a window or stepping onto a patio takes on new importance. But while most office buildings only nod at creating this kind of access to the outdoors, one bank in South Korea is upping the ante by building a spiraling public park directly into its new headquarters.
The building, now under construction for Hana Financial, is a 700,000 square foot compound with four wings all interconnected by ramps and looking in on a large atrium. From a distance, the building looks like a deck of cards mid shuffle. The woven strands of ramps at its edges are a bold new way of building outdoor access into the office environment.
Designed by the architecture firm NBBJ, the new tower rises 16 stories, and its winding ramps allow for a continuous walk from street level to roof and back. It’s an innovative take on the ramped architecture explored most famously by Frank Lloyd Wright in the sloped galleries of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Unlike the Guggenheim, though, Hana Bank’s new headquarters is trying to appeal both to visitors and the people who will work there.
It’s intended to be the iconic centerpiece of an emerging corporate campus, which includes separate data and research centers. The new campus is located about 30 miles outside of Seoul in the built-from-scratch Songdo City, a special economic zone and smart city that’s been gradually materializing over the past decade. For Hana Bank, currently headquartered in Seoul, moving out of the center of both business and culture in South Korea is a gamble—and one that means they couldn’t just build a typical office building.
“In order to attract that top talent, they really had to do a deeper rethink of not just the exterior design of the building, but how people are working in it,” says Robert Mankin, a partner at NBBJ.
With those goals in mind, the designers began to think about how the office building could be what they refer to as a restorative workplace. The design promotes curiosity, creativity, and choice about where different kinds of work can happen, Mankin says, “but it’s also a workplace that’s designed around health, and where there’s an opportunity for people to be healthier when they leave the workplace than when they arrive.”
The ramps can be used to walk from floor to floor instead of taking an elevator, and also as an easily accessible break space in the open air. The goal was to create new ways for workers to move throughout the building while also exposing them to fresh air and sunlight. “Rather than just plunk a building down and have some operable windows and say it’s connected with nature, [we asked] how can we do that in a more meaningful way?” says Mankin.
The ramps became what Mankin calls “a walk in the park,” with dense planting, areas to sit and gather, and even expansive views out to the nearby Yellow Sea. Midway up the building and then again on the roof, the ramp opens up onto broad park-like spaces, each of which are accessible to the public while also being designed for office workers to have outdoor meetings. The ramps also feature different experiences at various landings, including art exhibits and digital media installations. One section will feature a media display that reacts to people as they walk up and down. “We thought a lot about how do you program this place to be unique but also different each time you visit,” Mankin says.
That’s geared not just to the public who will be welcomed to use the building’s ramps and outdoor spaces. After two years of a pandemic showing how many jobs can be done just as easily at home, it’s also a recognition that modern office buildings have to offer more. “Infusing something new to the office that people can’t get at home is a notion that’s going to carry forward,” Mankin says.