Behind the Curtain: ABN AMRO Bank

Sensitivity to Light

Growing up, I used to tell my parents I was allergic to the sun because when suddenly exposed to bright sunlight, I start to sneeze.   It turns out that I have photic sneeze reflex, also known as “sun sneezing.”   It’s an obscure condition that affects up to one third of the population.

Ironically, if I do not get enough sun during the winter months, I’m prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, and I can feel depressed.

So the fact that I’m personally sensitive to light lends itself rather nicely to my profession, in which I have to be highly sensitive to light. After all, quality lighting is essential to the workplace.   Office workers receive most of the information they act on through their sense of sight.

ABN AMRO Reception Area

Worker satisfaction, health, and comfort are critical to productivity, and natural light is extremely important to the health and psychology of office workers.   Simply put, lighting greatly contributes to the way people feel.   When people feel better, they work better.

ABN AMRO Conference Room

It’s not by accident that lighting catalogs represent more than a third of our office’s architectural library. Comfortable lighting design should take into account peoples natural circadian rhythms.   By providing lighting solutions that incorporate daylight and views to the outside, architects and designers can allow workers to stay energized and rejuvenated as they are able to sense the changing patterns of light over the day.

ABN AMRO 17th Floor Section at Trading Rooms

Many European countries recognize the importance of natural light and require workers to be within 27 feet of an exterior window.   In the Netherlands, regulations require that workspaces used for more than two hours a day have access to daylight.   While regulations do not specify the minimum distance from desk to window, they do state that the total window surface should be at least 1/20 of the floor area for an office. These requirements result in a practical office depth of 7.5 meters or 24.6 feet from the faà §ade of a building.   This is one of the reasons why Dutch office buildings tend to have limited floor depths.

When the new Dutch ABN AMRO bank hired Janko Rasic Architects, PLLC to design its New York City office, the importance of lighting was stressed during one the first client/architect meetings.

ABN AMRO wanted to create a clean, sleek, high-performance workplace. The space was to be dynamic, collaborative and luminous. Lighting considerations for the project started during the site selection process.

After visiting numerous office buildings in Midtown Manhattan, the project team quickly narrowed down the viable options.

Ultimately, 100 Park Avenue was selected. The 36-story building has a slim tower with several setbacks which rest on a large base, thanks to New York’s Zoning Resolution of 1916. This resolution was enacted after the 42-story Equitable building was constructed without any setbacks casting a shadow over 7 acres.

ABN AMRO 17th Floor Plan

At 100 Park Avenue, the irregular floor plate of the first setback was desirable to ABN AMRO because of the high ratio of window walls to internal space. The floor also boasted multiple roof setback terraces, some of which were planted with green roofs and others which could be utilized by the staff for informal meetings and entertaining.

A conscious effort was made by the design team to provide each occupant with access to natural light and a view to the outside.   Both interior architecture and furniture had to be considered.

  • Improving on the European standard, no desk is farther than 24 feet from a window.
  • Bankers who traditionally have private offices or high walled cubicles now sit at open “benching” systems.
  • To reduce glare on computer monitors, the benches are organized perpendicular to the exterior windows.
  • Most of the furniture is white with punches of blue color seen in chairs and reflective glass file tops.
  • The bulk of the mechanical systems and large ductwork are kept tight to the core of the building allowing for higher ceiling heights around the perimeter of the building.
  • Sidewall diffusers and registers feed the perimeter private offices so that dropped ceilings can align with the top of exterior windows.
  • Interior full height glass partitions at the perimeter offices and conference rooms permit daylight to penetrate all the way to the buildings core and interior corridors.
  • In the open work areas, acoustical ceiling clouds float below the ceiling slab reflecting indirect/direct pendant lights which are suspended by aircraft cable.

The segmented design of the ‘ultra-flat’ backlit housing of pendant lights contrasts well with the background floating ceiling clouds. Their soft, even, diffuse light reduces glare and creates an overall sense of brightness.

ABN AMRO Trading Floor

The trading rooms’ three ceiling clouds progressively step up in height towards the south facing windows.   Users are given lighting controls. They are able to adjust the amount of natural light entering the space through manual solar shades and artificial lighting level through dimmers.

ABN AMRO Staff Coffee Bar

When the staff feels the need to re-energize and stretch their legs, they can go to for a shot of espresso and sun at the office’s south facing coffee bar which is marked by a blue translucent canopy.   A long, standing height bar used for impromptu meetings and reading the paper overlooks one of the floor’s green roofs.   If one feels the need for more vitamin D, she can access a block long outdoor terrace outfitted with garden furniture.

ABN AMRO 23rd Floor Plan

Lighting technology is constantly changing.   It seems there are new developments every day.   When ABN AMRO decided to expand and take another floor in the building, we decided to use 4” square 3,000 Kelvin lensed LED downlights in the common corridors in lieu of the square compact fluorescents previously used.

ABN AMRO 23rd Open Work Area

Only 18 months earlier, the selection of LED light fixtures in the marketplace was relatively limited to mostly decorative fixtures.   We were only able to use LEDs as accent lights in private offices and track spots in the staff coffee bar. Today, LED technology developments are revolutionizing architectural lighting.

ABN AMRO Phone Booth & Hallway

Looking ahead, our office will continue to update our lighting catalogs and replenish our architectural library.


  1. Looking at the Sun Can Trigger a Sneeze: For some people, bright lights mean big sneezes, Scientific American
  2. Lighting the Workplace: New Priorities, Herman Miller
  3. Sustainable workplaces: A simple switch in office lighting, Philips
  4. The European office: office design and national context,   Juriaan van Meel
  5. About Zoning: History, New York City Department of City Planning
  6. ABN AMRO Images: Alick Crossley
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