BUFFALO, N.Y. – What will the bank of the future look like now that traditional banking can be done in the palm of your hand? And what should a library be when most reading and research is done online?
University at Buffalo architecture students have been trying to answer these questions in a graduate design studio on civic building.
The students began the semester by looking back and studying inspirational banks and libraries from around the world before developing designs for a new branch bank in Western New York.
They presented their design proposals for a 1,000-square-foot branch bank to officials at M&T Bank. Headquartered in Buffalo, M&T has more than 800 branches across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.
The second assignment in the studio was to develop design ideas for an 80,000-square foot building to house a health sciences library that could theoretically be built on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus alongside UB’s new Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building, which is nearing completion.
The studio is being taught by Brian Carter, a professor of architecture in UB’s School of Architecture and Planning, who suggested that “buildings like banks and libraries are, like city halls and many other types of buildings that have long been a backdrop of civic life, an endangered species.”
Designing the bank of the future
Patrick OBrien says that he can’t recall the last time that he set foot in a brick-and-mortar bank. A graduate student in the studio, OBrien said that he rarely carries cash and instead pays for goods and services using a debit card or his smartphone.
His design proposal was called ‘The Vault.” However, it lacked a significant mainstay of the traditional branch bank: a place for transactions with a teller. Instead, OBrien’s drawings focused on space for safe deposit boxes and meeting rooms for financial education seminars.
“I wanted to look at what a bank might be if you are no longer dealing with money. Everybody uses their phone or a debit card now and consequently the only thing in my design that has to do with money are two ATMs in the vestibule. Everything else is focused around financial education and safe deposit boxes” he said.
Another student, Gianfranco Pietrantoni, incorporated outdoor space that became available on the site around the smaller bank building to provide community gardens, outdoor park space or playgrounds. The bank would not be the only focus. Inside the building would be a café and community meeting space.
“This bank is not just a building on the street – it’s a place to go and a destination for the community,” Pietrantoni explained about his project, titled “Land Bank.”
Students presented their design proposals at M&T’s headquarters in Buffalo. Seven bank officials, along with three specialist designers from HHL Architects, assessed the concepts and selected three of the designs. And while there is no commitment from M&T Bank to adopt any of the design ideas, the proposals sparked energetic discussions.
“This is a chance for us to partner with UB’s School of Architecture and Planning and put creative thought into future branch bank design. From our perspective, it was an opportunity for the retail bank to get creative ideas about what elements might make sense for the future,” said Eric Marks, M&T’s administrative vice president for retail network planning.
“Overall, we were enthusiastic about the work of these graduate students and hope that they found the collaboration to be a valuable part of their educational experience.”
The library in the community
The digital age has reduced the days when students and citizens alike flocked to libraries to read, look at newspapers and search for information in the pages of books and journals.
Libraries around the world – including UB’s own libraries on campus – have relegated stacks of books to storage and made room for group collaboration spaces, private study areas, coffee shops and public computing stations.
“The nature of the library is changing rapidly. Yet, for many years the building has been an important civic place and space in the city,” Carter said. “We are interested in finding ways of designing a library that could ensure that it would maintain those qualities and continue to be a significant place in and for the community.”
Consequently, Carter challenged his students to think of new ways that a library for the health sciences could be organized and designed, particularly if it were located on a campus in the city and alongside residential neighborhoods.
One of the students, Ingrid Calderon, is developing a concept where the library is above a market. “People could use a market to buy fresh produce that could improve their health while also encouraging them to visit the library,” she suggested “Or maybe you’re at the library and on your way out can stop at the market to buy food for dinner. And because of the activity that a market would generate, I placed it on the street with the library above.”
Other students in the studio are also developing designs for libraries that can help to nourish both mind and body by combining the library with athletic facilities and outdoor cinemas, and bringing the three museums that are currently within UB’s Health Sciences Library out into the public domain to provide an attraction for the wider community and a basis for city education programs.