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BALTIC TRADER.

Slotted into a canalside site, these dealing offices for the Hamburg-based Vereinsbank add to the life of the city.

Enthusiasm for IT has focused on means of communication regardless of location. Presumption that every deal can be negotiated from a call centre in a green field or desert, divorced from environment and alienated from society, ignores the tradition of face to face confrontation, and the art of contractual agreement, which have been cornerstones of civilization since human settlements were established with forums, markets and souks. The Vereinsbank Hamburg headquarters for international stock market dealing exemplifies this modern dichotomy.

The bank prides itself on knowledge of investment customers' concerns and discreet personal contact and service. Unlike many other financial institutions, it decided to remain in Hamburg and not follow the rush to Frankfurt. At the same time, expansion and modernization of its world-wide electronic network meant constructing a new purpose-built headquarters. Theoretically this could have operated from a rural setting anywhere in Germany, but the Vereinsbank has been based in Hamburg since 1856 and, while Berlin's exchange specializes in Eastern European and Stuttgart in American shares, Hamburg has specialist knowledge of the Baltic nations. Reinforcing these historical roots were strategic and logistic factors. In the increasingly fierce competition for qualified staff, a vibrant city location such as Hamburg is an obvious advantage.

This demonstration of the bank's loyalty has enhanced its reputation as a reliable Hanseatic institution, partly compensating for difficulties encountered in developing an urban infill, as opposed to a greenfield site. In Neuer Wall the bank has a physical presence, close to City Hall, the stock market building and other manifestations of commercial power. Alsop & Stormer won an architectural competition in 1995 for the site sandwiched between historical eighteenth- and nineteenth-century commercial buildings and postwar Modernist developments of high value offices and shops. The Neuer Wall provides a total of 11 000 sqm of usable space, including 6000 sqm for 280 bank employees on seven floors, and two street level shops separated by a pedestrian arcade cutting through the centre of the site between the street and canal frontage. Eventually, a new pedestrian footbridge over the Bleichenfleet canal will complete the composition.

While obediently following the historical street plan, the project has managed to insert a welcome dash of nonconformity into its conservative Hanseatic setting. The concertina zigzag of vertical glazing is made up of alternately fixed panes of smooth green glass, and blue openable panels with a flecked glass louvre system for manually operated sun shading. As you walk down the street, the facade changes colour and appearance according to the angle of view. The folded facade has an antecedent in Expressionist architecture. Fritz Hager used the technique in brick on his 1927 Hamburg-Wandsbek cigarette factory.

The bank's discreet double-height entrance foyer is tucked into a corner on the fleet side of the building, at the end of the arcade. A security turnstile leads to the lift. Also facing the water is a small and very basic staff canteen reached by a glazed bridge that crosses the arcade at first floor level. In the absence of a proper in-house restaurant, the bank's well paid employees are encouraged to mix with the general populace and make a meaningful contribution to the inner city economy.

On the open plan second floor is the dealing room, which covers the full area of the site. The Vereinsbank is one of the first to use Siemens latest telephone system, operated by a touch screen which flips up from the work table. Blond wood, blue and grey carpet and paintwork with a flat ceiling offer a neutral, almost somnambulant atmosphere for rows of computer screens on blue laminate work tops. Head-sets and the low partitions between the double-sided dealing tables form separate sections to ensure customer privacy.

Floors three to seven form a U-plan, partly enclosing a third floor roof terrace big enough for open air receptions. As well as offering a private garden view from all offices, this plan allows every cellular office natural light and ventilation with openable windows. Three fire-protected stairwells in the building provide the opportunity for smaller rentable units. Energy-saving measures are the norm. An exposed concrete soffit without suspended ceilings allows the time-lagged release of heat, while sun-shades, tinted glazing, and a night cooling system avoid overheating. All component materials were checked by a building biologist for their environmental friendliness.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Vereinsbank
Author:DAWSON, LAYLA
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:732
Previous Article:SCALING THE CITY.
Next Article:CIVIC SPECTACLE.
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