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This new bank in Borken is a thoughtful response to recent changes in banking practice, evolving from the palazzo model to modern, streamlined institutions.

Banks used to be quite simple, places - ponderous, heavy and institutional, based on the notion that physical solidity equated reassuring permanence and security. This is changing. The recent growth of virtual banking has caused a major restructuring not only in how business is transacted, but also in the form of banks themselves. The daunting banking palazzos of history, with their Byzantinely hierarchical layers of staff are now being rationalized and replaced by smaller operations, with reduced face to face contact. Yet although it is widely predicted that banks in the physical sense may become obsolete, as a result of people being able to bank on-line, there will surely still be a need for places to conduct business in person -- the original basis of all banking and exchange.

The new Volksbank in Borken, a small German country town near the Dutch border, addresses these changes of function and image and translates them into built form. Contradictory requirements of openness and privacy are synthesized into what architects Bolles Wilson describe as an umbrella of discretion'. The site lies within walking distance of the town centre. The new building is a low slung longitudinal bar diffused and eroded at its west end by a tall glazed banking hall. Dramatically scaled and delicately transparent, this opens on to the street front as the bank's permeable, public face. Within the hall is a separate space for automatic transaction machines (ATMs), as most of the cash dealings in the bank are now automated. Divided by a 6m high sliding wall from the main space, the ATM hall is open 24 hours a day. The height of the banking hall gradually steps down from three to one storeys, marking the transition from imposing public space to more private hermetic domains.

Above the banking hall is a brick-clad volume containing cellular conference rooms and offices which require a greater degree of seclusion. These also step down along the building's length. The two diverse elements of offices and banking hall are precisely dovetailed together like a piece of cabinetry, the cloistered private offices suspended over a zone of openness and transparency.

In Borken's messily vital urban context of supermarkets, small houses and traffic roundabouts, the bank's simple Euclidean form is a reassuringly calm, rooted presence. A sober yet dignified palette of materials is applied with sensitivity and restraint. The solid upper volume is executed in a warm chocolate brown brick, with crisp orthogonal openings punched into its flanks. The clear glass skin of the banking and ATM hall is held in place by slim vertical mullions, emphasizing its sleek, diaphanous quality.

The building unfolds sequentially. Roving bank staff mingle with customers at standing tables in the central hall, or if more privacy is required, they can withdraw to glazed cubicles lining the edges of the hall. Deeper into the bank where the ceiling begins to step down, a new vertical vista opens up. A central toplit staircase leads to the offices, meeting rooms and rooftop cafe on the upper floors, Elegantly detailed and lined with panels of polished cherry, the stair is like a piece of taut, geometric sculpture

This stair is supported by a central column sheathed in translucent glass panels. The column is internally lit to exude a soft radiance, so it becomes both structural and ephemeral like money itself. A similarly detailed column is positioned at the corner of the building beside the glass ATM hall. Glowing seductively, like a streamlined totem pole, it forms a mesmerizing landmark for the next phase of the banking evolution.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Previous Article:CIVIC SPECTACLE.

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