The Architecture of Banking

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by: Alexander Osterwalder

Today I was invited to Professor Jeffrey Huang’s class on “The Architecture of Banking” to comment on his students’ projects at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL).

It was quite a fun experience because the students explored a variety of different types of banks to match them with suitable concepts of space and architecture. The goal was then to tell a compelling story for the architectural concepts presented. This coming summer the outcomes will be presented in book form, which I’m definitely looking forward to.

Just a short outline of the types of banks and the concepts that were presented by the 6 different student groups:

  • “The Art Bank” in Zermatt (see above image), where customers (presumably wealthy private banking clients) could do banking while admiring an art exposition. UBS served as a starting point to the reflections.
  • “The Adaptive Bank” that is present at different locations based on the population’s weekly routines of commuting, working, leisure and weekend. The concept was based on Raiffeisen’s business.
  • “The Bank as a Restaurant” where customers get served a banking menu and where quick transactions are done in a fast-food area. Postfinance was the starting point for this concept.
  • “The Bank as a Forum”, which is the physical branch of an online bank. Its purpose is to cater to the needs of a community of practice of active online traders and investors. It brings a physical space for knowledge exchange to a community mainly dominated by online routines. Swissquote was at the roots of this idea.
  • “The P2P Bank” as a marketplace, where anybody can lend credits to borrowers – the banker actually disappears. This concept was based on the online peer-to-peer lending platform Zopa that eliminates the need for a credit banking intermediary.
  • “The Second Life Private Bank”, which is the branch office of a private bank in the virtual world Second Life. The largest Swiss private bank Pictet served as a basis for this reflection.

Besides the fun of thinking through the students’ work, I got 3 lessons out of today’s session:

  • good architects (and designers in general) have to be able to pull together multiple complex areas to present an attractive solution. Within the scope of this project it meant understanding the specifics of banking, their clients’ needs and the (city) space in general in order to come up with a viable outcome of architectural form and texture. This multidisciplinary edge and capacity for synthesis is what architects could teach business executives.
  • great architects are amazing storytellers that can seamlessly connect the presented solution with a bank’s essence and business strategy. They are able to tell an appealing story that speaks to the heart and the mind.
  • the design process, which is a winding journey towards a solution, has a lot of value in itself and can already tell a beautiful story. It might actually be the most important part of any banking architecture project since it forces a bank to ask itself “who are we? what do we do? what de we stand for?”

    On a completely different note: today, during the visit at EPFL, was the first time I consequently used my new Logitech io Personal Digital Pen. It allows me to upload the notes I write into a notebook directly to my laptop. Below you see the sketch I made during the Swissquote presentation, where I briefly outline the dichotomy between online discount brokerages and physical private banks…

I must admit that this pen is quite amazing! Watch this space for more (valuable) sketches when I write into my notebook during a nice, sunny and inspiring winter day on a terrace in the Alps.

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