The Housing Bank Complex: from family fun to business center

The edifice of the complex represents a turning point in the architecture of the city and a milestone in Amman

A view of the Housing Bank Complex on April 19, 2021. The complex used to be a social and recreational hub in the city. Now, it is mostly used for office space. (Photo: Nayrouz Ali/Jordan News)
The rapid expansion Amman experienced in the 1980s was accompanied by an expanded Central Business District (CBD) which reached as far as Shmesani. Many new “city center” facilities such as high-quality shopping, hotels, cultural and recreational spaces, private and governmental offices were developed in Shmeisani during that time, serving local residents and those living beyond the city limits. اضافة اعلان

One of the enduring architectural hallmarks of that era is the Housing Bank Center — one of the most unique landmarks in Amman. The center is located in Shmeisani on the western edge of the CBD, right next to Dakhliya Circle. 

The center was constructed in 1982 and officially opened by the late King Hussein in 1984. It was constructed by Ssangyong Engineering and Construction, alongside Dar Al-Handaseh Consulting Organization in Architecture and Engineering, and is 90 percent owned by The Housing Company for Tourism and Hotel Investments. 

“I had the time of my life in that building,” Layla Al-Najjar, 55, told Jordan News. “I used to meet with my friends there during my teenage years, spending hours and hours wandering inside. Sometimes, I used to take my younger sisters to play there, every time I pass by the building I remember those good old days.” 

The building, the tallest in Amman when it was built and the seventh tallest today, is clearly seen in the city’s skyline. As soon as it was constructed, it dazzled everyone who saw it and made them want to visit and wander inside, which once meant it was the heart of leisure in the city and a commercial hub for Ammanis and tourists alike.

The architectural expression is harmonious with Amman’s unique topography and its hilly character. The floors get smaller as they ascend, taking a pyramidal form that integrates itself with the natural features of the terrain. The building’s homogeneous facades are marked by continuous large and glazed openings that allow the penetration of sunlight into the building, emphasized by soft greenery that creates iconic horizontal strips. 

The center consists mainly of two major components — the commercial center and the hotel. 

The commercial center consists of eighteen rental floors. The first three floors include what used to be a shopping area with interconnected circulation and two main entrances on different levels. 

The entrances lead to the elevator lobby of the offices above. Shops, including bank branches, tourism and airline offices, travel agencies, showrooms, art galleries, game centers, and more were spread over a total area of 15,000sq.m. Above, there are fourteen floors totaling 22,000sq.m. of rental offices.

The shopping area used to be a focal point for visitors and shoppers. The space was often visited by youth and families who used to take their children to spend an entire day shopping from luxurious shops and using the different entertainment facilities, including the cinema, restaurants, and wedding halls.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the building began to lose its popularity as a shopping center, according to Nizar Zyout, head of sales and marketing at Iskan Company. “The rise of malls in the 90s overshadowed the commercial usage of the center,” he said. “People started preferring wide corridors and high ceilings. The company thought it would be better to turn the whole center into an office building, and in 2008 the whole building became for offices.”

The other component of the center was the hotel — originally named The Plaza and then briefly Le Grand Amman — a five-star hotel that was one of the most luxurious hotels in the Middle East at the time. 

The hotel was inaugurated by the late King Hussein in 1986 and opened in 1987. The space included 12 floors consisting of multiple facilities such as a grand ballroom, meeting room, lounges, restaurants, coffee houses, a night club, a barbershop, and a beauty salon, as well as outdoor facilities such as a swimming pool and roof garden. 

The complex also included a number of other facilities, such as a 200sq.m. cinema hall with a seating capacity of 121 people. 

The health club, located on the ground floor had two independent sections for males and females. The club included a dry sauna, Turkish bath, gymnasium, massage cubicles, plunge pools, a doctor’s room, and a cafeteria.

At the moment, with 70 percent of the building occupied by offices, the hotel is under renovation to open soon as Sofitel Luxury Hotel. This comes after previous renovations of the building in 2010 and 2014, supervised by Dar Al-Handasa.

With almost 70 firms in the building at the moment, Zyout said that there are no intentions of bringing back the commercial identity of the complex. He pointed out that while it was publicly vibrant, it did not bring as much financial return as the offices do.

So the building remains an icon of eighties nostalgia, preserved in the memory of the city.

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