Use of New Materials

The Bank Building & Equipment Corporation took great pride is pioneering the use of new products and techniques that were in limited or experimental use, promoting them for aesthetics, efficiency, and financial return.  Company president Joseph B. Gander considered the firm as a laboratory for diversified new design ideas, which should be of value to every banker.  The challenge became successful in evoking the venerable banking qualities of security, efficiency, strength, and modernism by physical means without adding significant expense.

Lobbies, as public areas, became showcases for the designers who often gave them “tasteful yet practical” period treatments with wall-to-wall carpeting, recessed lighting, acoustically treated ceilings, textured plastic wall coverings, colorful casement draperies, and custom styled furniture.  Many interiors show sweeping carpeted stairways, bold striped flooring, raked counters, and dazzling draperies.  A mural, fountain or other art form may have also been included as an added “appeal for the all-important woman customer.”  And where merchandising was the order of the day, Bank Building & Equipment Corporation also took care to incorporate community rooms, lounges, exhibit areas, and special kiddie areas into some banking facilities.

From a 1956 New York Times article, here is a description of how the company described the typical new materials used in a new or remodeled structure:

“Masonry is eliminated from the street fronts, steel framing is reduced to a minimum, and the rest of the façade is sheathed in glass.

Ornamental bronze and marble screens, separating the public from the bank’s working space, have been replaced with streamlined counters in fine woods, hardly more than waist-high, placing tellers in a closer and friendlier relation with customers.

Floors formerly paved with travertine or terrazzo are in many cases covered with overall carpeting, which discourages patrons from throwing papers, cigarettes and chewing gum on the floor.”

The Bank Building & Equipment Corporation liked to grab the public’s attention with design, though keep the Joseph Gander, the bank president’s, was pleased with efficient utilization of all the space available.  An example of this was Gander’s own office at the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation headquarters.  Gander also liked that Sarmiento used new materials and used traditional materials in uncommon fashion, seeking efficiency.

However, while the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation of America used modernism to attract attention and new business, not all their ideas treated an existing building’s original character sensitively.  In speaking to bankers, economics was typically the bottom line.  An example of this practice was given in a 1952 interview:

“The lobby of one institution had an old-fashioned ceiling 30 feet high.  By creating two floors with nine-foot ceilings, Gander and Orabka (President and Vice-president of the company at the time) added 10,000 additional square feet of floor space and that, leased at $5.00 a square foot, brought in an extra $50,000 in gross income every year.”

By the early 1960s, designers for the company were re-evaluating the use of natural materials for exterior application, replacing them with alternatives such as using precast stone panels.  Citing the speed and economy in erecting the panels, the pre-cast units were believed to provide dimension, art, and design value without bulk.  They also thought that the success of pre-cast was due to the fast moving development of adhesives, especially the epoxy resin that could weld structural components together to be lighter, but stronger and larger.  In addition, new sealing gaskets were available to speed the installation of glass curtain walls so that large sheets of glass sheets could literally be “zipped” into place, and “unzipped” for maintenance or replacement.

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