High Interest Rate
Josephine Minutillo -- Interior Design, 2/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Not since Gordon Bunshaft plopped a great big bank vault smack in the middle of the glass-walled Manufacturers Trust Company's Midtown New York branch in 1954 has there been so much talk about bank design. Today, the role of the bank has changed, as witnessed in Gensler's recent Wachovia project. "Banks were traditionally places where you dropped off your money," says Lance Boge, Gensler's retail design director. "They really didn't have to sell you anything because they were the only game in town. Now there are a lot of games in town." Add the renewed popularity and expanded services of branch banking, and banks have become an increasingly significant component of retail design in many architectural offices.
Its merger with First Union in 2001 turned Wachovia into America's fourth-largest bank. Making branch offices the cornerstone of its strategy to attract customers and form lasting relationships with them, Wachovia hired Gensler to translate their vision into a new model of retail branch banking. "What really attracted us to Gensler was their willingness to learn about our business," recalls Cece Sutton, head of Wachovia's retail banking. "Gensler showed a keen interest in understanding our overarching retail strategy and the type of environment we were looking for to provide a better customer experience."
Working closely with Wachovia's in-house team, Gensler principal and creative director John Bricker, together with Boge, developed a kit of parts, both traditional and nontraditional, that would make the Wachovia brand instantly recognizable, whether at a freestanding suburban branch or an urban infill location. Given the bank's ambitious plans for expansion, the design also needed to be flexible and straightforward so it would be easy to roll out in multiple locations.
Following the completion of several New York branches, the first freestanding prototype was realized in Eagle's Landing, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. "The goal was for the bank to be a showpiece," explains Boge, "like a storefront that says, 'These are the things we are offering.'" With its distinctive curved roof—referencing the shape of the new Wachovia logo—the building also serves as a billboard for those driving past it on the nearby highway.
The plan of the 4,200-square-foot structure consists of three parts that are distinguished by the materials and shapes of the exterior. Aluminum-framed glass panels form two elevations and beckon passersby. A brick outcropping extends from the building's exterior inside to house the vault and form the wall framing the teller area. An intermediate area provides customer assistance and financial services.
To distinguish the various services, the Gensler team employed different ceiling heights, colors, floor patterns, and materials. In the Community Center, for example, the notice board used for posting local events is made up of plastic-laminate panels in shades derived from Wachovia's brand colors, blue and green. Also setting the area apart is its dropped ceiling, a painted-aluminum grid, and its round of striped carpet tiles set into the bamboo-paneled floor. Essentially a waiting area, the center's pair of generous upholstered armchairs and a trio of oak stools surrounding a round, 3-foot-tall table invite customers to sit and stay a while.
Beyond is the teller area, a welcoming open space. Modeled after a hotel reception desk, it consists of one long, high counter rather than impersonal teller cages. Walnut composes the customer stands.
Another sitting area, used for customer assistance, is defined by the bank's MDF focal wall, which is painted ocean blue and emblazoned with Wachovia signage in aluminum. Four offices run along the perimeter, separated from the retail area by panels of frosted and clear glass framed in aluminum.
"Employees and customers love the branches," says Sutton. The design strategically taps into proven retail practices and, she says, adapts to the customer's needs "from the time they see the Wachovia building from the road." Success is also proven in numbers. Currently, there are seven Gensler-designed branches throughout the southeast—and 50 more in the works.