Exchange Bank, Sebastopol Branch

Project Description

The client requested that the local character of the Sebastopol community be reflected in the design, melded with a contemporary expression appropriate to the bank’s embrace of forward-looking banking practices. Additionally, the bank asked that the design have a strong visual presence yet feel at home in this low-keyed community surrounded by an agricultural setting.

The building is oriented to the street corner, with parking tucked behind the building. The building has a strong presence on both street frontages and parking lot, while deemphasizing the adjacent fast-food drive-through to the north. A secondary, opposing shed roof form provides a roof canopy that shelters the ATMs and serves to provide a gracious entry to the building.  The opposing shed roofs are configured so that rainwater is discharged from the roof at a single point.  Stormwater runoff cascades from the intersection of the two roofs into an elevated rain garden at the building perimeter. Generous glazing including a prominent clerestory reinforces the indoor/outdoor relationship while providing abundant natural light to the interior. In addition to the raingarden, solar panels, the use of natural light, numerous other sustainability best practices are integrated throughout the project.

The site and building design meld the local agrarian character, reflecting the bank’s 130-year legacy in the community, with a contemporary expression appropriate to the bank’s embrace of forward-looking banking practices. This is achieved by abstract references to local materials, both architectural and those of the apple and wine industries for which the Sebastopol environs are known. Dramatic roof forms supported by peeled wood columns reference the local agrarian architecture while achieving the strong visual presence desired by the bank.

The most time intensive aspect of the design was accommodating the bank’s programming requirements, specifically how best to accommodate the functions typically found in branch banks’ 8,000 sf+ floor plates within a 3,500 sf footprint typically of today’s industry standards.

The forward-looking banking practices desired by the bank were achieved by a hospitality focused approach, a lack of formality (including avoiding the traditional row of teller windows), and an open, transparent main customer service space with a partial raised floor with flexible furnishings which accommodates numerous functions and future reconfigurations.

Design Challenge

There were three primary challenges presented by this project: Programmatic: This project was identified by the bank as a model for accommodating programmatic requirements for their future bank branches. Today banks receive less foot traffic than before, meaning that bank branches can be considerably smaller, though they must still accommodate the same variety of traditional functions. The industry standard size for new branches is typically around 3,500 sf, less than half the size of traditional branches. The biggest, but less obvious project challenge was working with the bank’s executives, facilities, and marketing staff in what became a protracted and challenging process that represented a fundamental rethinking of needs. Significant differences in opinion among the bank’s stakeholders were carefully and thoughtfully resolved, supported by the production of literally dozens of possible floor configurations that explored numerous design options. This programming and design process lasted nearly a year and resulted in an innovative, open layout with staff fully accessible to customers, and without the typical row of teller windows. Teller stations are individual and even allow the teller and customer to stand side by side during transactions. Immediate & Regional Context: Located near the edge of town in an area characterized by a suburban/rural interface, the site is immediately surrounded by the banal architecture of a strip mall and fast-food restaurant, with a blend of buildings and agricultural uses located immediately across the street. The building responds to adjacent buildings in terms of scale, while the character of the site and architecture reflect the nearby and regional agricultural and natural environments. The client requested that the local character of the Sebastopol community be reflected in the design, melded with a contemporary expression appropriate to the bank’s embrace of forward-looking banking practices. As explained in greater detail below under “Physical Context”, an informal inventory of buildings in Sebastopol demonstrated a diverse, eclectic range of “anything goes” architectural expression that provided little guidance, but few constraints.  In response the design team looked beyond the local architecture to the surrounding historic agricultural environment for inspiration. Strong Visual Presence: The bank’s request for a project with a strong visual presence which also would feel at home in this low-keyed community offered an interesting challenge. In response, strongly expressed opposing roof forms that belie the small building footprint establish a powerful architectural presence, with overhangs supported by peeled wooden poles that reinforce the visual presence visible even from a distance. The building is anchored to the site by a strongly expressed, elevated concrete framed raingarden that visually elevates the building, increasing its prominence.

Physical Context

In reviewing the architecture of the town of Sebastopol, an informal inventory of existing buildings demonstrated a diverse, eclectic range of architectural expression. In the absence of a consistent architectural character the design team elected to instead draw from Sebastopol’s rich agricultural past and surrounding natural agricultural environment. The area’s historic Gravenstein apple and wine industries, barns, and horticulturalist Luther Burbank’s nearby experimental gardens - the very fabric of the surrounding area itself - provided an abundance of visual inspiration from which to work. Without being overt or literal the building and landscape design references these elements from the surrounding landscape. Simple shed roof forms are drawn from the nearby agrarian structures, but here are placed in opposition to each other in a purposefully non-traditional, contemporary configuration. The building walls are a slatted vertical cementitious siding material that recalls traditional agrarian materials such as weathered barn boards, apple crates, and rural fencing associated with Sebastopol area’s history in an abstract, subtle manner. The strongly expressed clear-finished exterior wood columns, elevated raingarden and rustic landscape materials and plantings reinforce this design approach. Through the use of simple but powerful forms, and materials and textures that respond to the surrounding agricultural environment, the design achieves the bank’s goal of creating a bold, contemporary statement which fits comfortably with its eclectic, rural community.