Banking is in a state of crisis. The collapse of trust from investors and savers comported a major change in perception toward financial institutions, deemed responsible for much of the instability and the difficulties of real economy. But this crisis, most of times intended as economic, is also an architectural one, an identity crisis. By occupying generic spaces, banks lost their recognizability in the city and their typological specificity which distinguished them from other buildings. Contemporary banks are just offices behind ATMs. At one end they send the message that they are wealthy, secure, safe and virtuous repositories for your money; on the other side they communicate hospitality and honesty in transacting your affairs. Trust and physical security always played a key role, certainly in appearance if not in fact. This lead us to an aporia: if the link between architecture and money is the importance of an appropriate image of trust, how banks can fulfill this requirement today? Even the symbol of the link between banks and money, their architectural correspondence on banknotes, is disappearing through the electronic currency. In the physical world, the construction of a bank image through architecture has always been instrumental in transmitting safety and trust. Banks were buildings made of allegories, because of their corespondency with money. What about today?
Transactions today need few seconds, and everything can be done online. Yet you keep on going to branches for important matters. Clients need a tangible trust when they deal with their own money. Banks are reforming the plafond of services offered to clients responding to technological innovations and profitability problems by augmenting their immateriality. Consulting and advisory activities are increasing while institutes propose themselves as platforms for new digital relations with Fintech and P2P credit. This complexity has to be made explicit, trough the discrepancy of an architectural solution utilizing a traditional type displaying new operations. The project for a new banking institute should pose itself as critical act redefining those banking processes not having a clear spatial configuration yet, by utilizing Architecture as system of communication for the functioning of the institute.
The activity on the territory is perhaps one of the banking’s last expendable asset of Trust. Through the offering of consulting services in the territory, a bank can help the flourishing of new businesses, ideas and partnerships between privates, operating as a broker or infrastructure and using its authoritative knowledge as guarantee. A Bank of Trust. Architecture assumes a civic value being the keystone in redefining the relation between bank, intended as building and institution, and city, physical space and ensemble of connections. Since the relation with the territory is so focal, the project was located in Frankfurt because of its symbolic value. Here the postwar reconstruction allowed the booming of an anonymous plethora of banking architecture with no civic responsibility which colonized the space through generic rented offices. The issue of Trust becomes fundamental in the institute’s storytelling, proper corporate branding. Emphasizing its roots in the territory and physical nature, the Bank would differentiate itself from similar online services with no physical interface or global financial institutions. Trough displaying its spaces, the Bank shows itself to clients, conveying a new type of responsible banking. Architecture becomes the bank’s medium through which building an image of mutual trust with the territory.
The Berlage Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture and Urban Design