Modern Architecture and Banks

 

I’ve had a soft spot for Modern architecture since I studied the Modern library in downtown Reno, Nevada. On my recent visit to Hat ‘n Boots Park south of Seattle, this bank caught my eye and I’ve been thinking about bank architecture ever since (just ask my brother, I kept getting distracted by banks during my recent visit to see him!).

There seems to be a large group of banks on the West Coast that, while not as eye-catching as this particular bank, are of the Modern architectural style and have similar characteristics (for example, vertical lines and subtle arches in reinforced concrete).

Banks in general may have more homogeneity than other building types; it is important that 1. when you see a bank, you know it’s a bank, and 2. it’s a space that makes you feel safe about leaving your money there (at least theoretically). Banks went through a strong Classical Revival period, emulating court houses and important public buildings with their grand entrances, columns, and porticos (these banks are still a common sight–the picture below is a bank in downtown Seattle, now dwarfed by skyscrapers).

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A Classical Revival bank in downtown Seattle. Originally on Instagram.

The US Bank on Michigan Street in Georgetown is a Modern gem. This 1967 building is an oval in plan and consists only of bold vertical lines between the ground and its roofline. The exterior walls that are not dark windows are covered in dark tile, giving a similar visual effect while affording interior spaces that require window-less walls (perhaps spaces with higher security or utilities that want to be hidden).

Modern banks had blended into the landscape for me previously, but now I am seeing them everywhere and many have a certain intriguing quality that I’m starting to admire and appreciate. They are a cool and careful amalgamation of the Modern, almost Miesian, architecture and their Classical predecessors (just look at those columns!).

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10 thoughts on “Modern Architecture and Banks

  1. My first brush with modern architecture was as a boy with this bank (in my hometown of South Bend):

    Sometime in the 80s the building was torn down in favor of an ATM-only kiosk in the shape of the (renamed) bank’s new logo:

    I’m still irritated that they tore down that building for the giant 1.

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    1. The bank is so cool, I love the zigzag at the edge of the roof and the deep eaves! Sad that it isn’t around anymore. What a thing for it to get replaced by!

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  2. The Secret Knowledge of Spaces–your blog name really attracts my imagination. Did your examination of the bank spaces uncover that secret chamber in the most secure of all banks…the Knights Templar alcove? 🙂

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  3. Hi Susie. I found your post by trying to find information on this very bank building—I drive by it every day. I hope Seattle has the good sense to recognize the uniqueness of this building; Georgetown is in such flux that I could see it being razed for new apartment buildings.

    There’s a fantastic example of a Mid-Century Modern bank in Yakima. It is the Wells Fargo bank at 101 E. Yakima Avenue, and it is not round, it is square. I don’t have a photo, but here is the Google Maps street view of it:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@46.6022591,-120.5058134,3a,75y,344.22h,95.44t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sVpRDhoikGK4Pcls_Ej8aWg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1

    If you zoom in you can see the original 60s chandeliers. (The interior looks to have retained at least some of the original design work. Alas, the bank was closed when I was there.)

    Thanks for the info!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Michael! That bank in Yakima is great–I especially love the columns. There’s so many good Mid-Century banks, I’ve been noticing them everywhere. I think there is a growing appreciation for Midcentury Modern architecture, hopefully enough to keep some of these great designs around.

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