Major ASEAN bank headquarters optimises staff connections and space efficiency

When bringing together teams from disparate parts of a city in one masthead building, it makes sense to create a unified theme on at least two counts – to give the newly gathered staff a sense of togetherness; and to create an office system that can be rolled out across all floors. The result is a solid company ethos and a cost-effective fit-out.


CIMB is the fifth largest universal banking group in ASEAN by asset size. When growth required relocation of four departments into a central headquarters in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, the banking group required responsive interiors. Noted design firm SL&A won the pitch, based on its strong regional banking credentials, capabilities and proposed strategies. Studio director Dylan Tham says the role went beyond interior design.

“With strategic work space study integral to our consultancy, we devised a comprehensive roadmap of the bank’s entire relocation project. This was led by our managing director Martin Axe.”

Benefits of the study included a clear plan for CIMB’s development in the new environment. Factors addressed included standardisation of work space modules to cater for the investment bank’s organisational growth, to make savings on capital and operating expenditure, and for overall increased effectiveness of workforce productivity.

Designed and built specifically for the ASEAN bank, Menara CIMB tower comprises 35 levels of offices and underground parking. Floorplates are a spacious 3042m². SL&A undertook the interiors for 10 levels in the high zone (above level 17) and five in the low zone, as well as the ground floor entrance and reception, and basement VIP Parking.


“Our concept was to create a dramatic entry at ground level, with the office fit-outs above templated right down to the workstations. This provided a work-efficient and economically efficient model to be rolled out across all the CIMB floors. Strategies were employed to retain individuality for each level but also encourage interconnectivity.”

Staff, clients, and guests enter the ground floor atrium under the spreading branches of the Tree of Life sculpture, then move on past water fountains, under a timber veneer entry arch into the marble-lined reception. This arrival path reflects a strong connection to nature, and a sense of solidity and opulence well suited to a high-end financial firm. The lavish reception also engenders a sense of pride for tower occupants.

“The Tree of Life is constructed in teak with connecting elements in stainless steel,” says Tham. “This sculpture is under lit, creating the illusion of light shining down through the branches.”

The tree spreads into the wood-batten ceiling. Tham says this acoustic ceiling adds a cosy aesthetic and provided a way to hide services, such as the sprinklers. The matt green granite floor of the vehicular concourse is repeated in a polished, slightly browner colour inside the atrium.


External columns and the interior walls of the atrium are in bookmatched travertine, another rich, natural surface. The reception desk is in the same wood veneer as the linear front door entry surround.

From the reception area, high-speed zoned lifts whisk CIMB employees up to their workplaces. At each level, the lift opens to a communal zone near the core. This zone, called a padang – Malay for ‘field’ – makes up 25% of each floor. Comprising breakout areas, adaptable meeting rooms and cafeterias, these spaces encourage casual connection between staff. The meeting and conference rooms are designed and positioned to encourage workers from other floors to utilise them as needed – just one way of encouraging interfloor connectivity in a bank that is home to 2200 people. Facilities such as restaurants, a gymnasium and crèches are set at the second floor, another way of encouraging movement through the building.

However, some differentiation was required on CIMB’s otherwise standardised floors. Freestanding baffle walls are positioned by the lift doors, with different displays on each level. These wayfinders feature a variety of cultural pieces intended to symbolise the essence of the ASEAN community.

The understated interiors incorporate frequent touches of red, the bank’s signature colour. Inspired by the tag-line ‘Feel at Home Anywhere in ASEAN’, each floor extends the ASEAN theme, with a birdhouse motif also recurring throughout.

While the contemporary design places the core services and lifts at the centre of the floor plate with meeting rooms and breakout spaces beyond, there is usually a view corridor out to the cityscape. The outer floorplate is given over to workstations, ensuring optimum natural light on work surfaces.

And this was just one of several green measures employed by SL&A. Many pieces of furniture and lighting elements have been repurposed from the vacated buildings and all surfaces are VOC-free.

“From the outset we held several meetings with staff from all levels of the bank to see what would work and what wouldn’t,” says Tham. “This early canvassing and preplanning was amply rewarded.

“Menara CIMB tower now represents a stand-out symbol of togetherness and operating efficiency.”

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