If you’ve watched the news lately, or left your basement lair, there have been several divisive conversations happening in this country. Trust me, I am not one to stay above the fray, or step off my soapbox because I could potentially alienate half of my readership.1 But, in this stage of social media, everyone is going to see things through their own personal lens – and it just so happens that most architects are looking through the same round black-spectacled lenses.
Robert Ivy, CEO of the American Institute of Architects, recently issued a 147-word narrative that called for Congress and the new incoming administration to enhance the role of architecture to improve the economy. And he concluded with the phrase:
“This has been a hard-fought, contentious election process. It is now time for all of us to work together to advance policies that help our country move forward.”
And 15% of the AIA members lost their fucking minds and demanded for Robert Ivy’s immediate resignation. Now, it should be noted that the following day of the election, President Obama stated:
“[We should] work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the President-elect — because we are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country.”
But I heard of no architects outraged by these remarks.2 Perhaps, President Obama doesn’t speak exclusively for our profession – but it is actually encouraging that architects are having a stronger voice in society.3 The goal of this blog, and the goal of (good) architecture is to improve the design of the built environment, and encourage more livable, sustainable communities. Correspondingly, architects also deeply care about social stances and the welfare of all inhabitants of society.
However, even though the outcome of recent events have left many stunned, it is often premature to be impetuous and act upon impulse.4 Maybe I am just too lazy to write on this timely topic, but it is often prudent to wait a couple months before imposing judgement on any perceived scandal.
Having said that, Wells Fargo is the fucking worst.
Sure, everybody knows about their recent false-accounts scandal which transpired from a poisonous and coercive sales culture. But one could surmise these inevitable conclusions merely by observing the architecture of banks.
Once upon a time, banks were barely more secure than a mattress pad for storing money. Bankers had trouble luring customers away from Doug the Salesman who works on commission at Mattress Mill USA and can have you sleeping on a Sealy Posturepedic tonight with only 4 easy payments of $399.99.
But paper money gets wrinkled beneath sheets. Thus, while the mattress industry turned to softer more air-filled products, bankers turned to the rigid architecture of the Greeks & Romans.
The Classical Revival style brought solid pediments and fluted columns to buildings – providing a visual stability of financial strength. If the Greek architectural style could survive thousands of years without change, then it could also have the perceived notion of weathering a financial depression.
- The Grand Lobby
To develop this sense of permanence, banks installed marble flooring and constructed multi-story lobbies of grandeur. When you entered into the bank’s lobby, the impressive size and splendor gave credence to their importance. A stateliness if you will – this place was built for kings; therefore, you’re measly $5 weekly wages would be secured with the same level of importance.
However, the bank lobby is the worst navigational tool. If you have a daily banking transaction – you know where to go: the zig-zagging barrier-roped teller queue at the far end of the room. But with the implementation of mobile banking, these transactions are becoming nearly obsolete. Therefore, if you are in the bank to discuss a loan or open an account – you have no clue where to proceed. The lobby is just one large space with a smattering of desks; while the working occupants of these desks act like they are too busy to make eye contact with aimlessly wandering customers.
Therefore, you still have to go meander through the barrier-roped procession waiting for the next teller available – hoping they can open an account for you. But of course THEY CAN’T.
Anyplace that has velour barrier ropes and crowd control stanchions forcing you to hesitantly stand in a dizzying queue is not concerned with customer service. It’s one thing to be standing in line for the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland – when you enter you know how long the line will be. And you also know the end of the queue will inevitably result in an enjoyable sightseeing boat ride to witness fake elephants and an ambush by animatronic natives harnessing bows and arrows.
But at the end of the bank teller queue, they inform you that you now have to go speak with Jan. But Jan is at lunch in the break room right now. However, you can have a seat in the lobby and wait 25 minutes for her – just to have the privilege of lending the bank money.
Banks wouldn’t even exist without customers! Banks don’t just store your cash in a drawer. You are essentially lending the bank money to contribute to their profitable operations at marginal or zero percent interest. And in return for their successful financial plunders – they are never open and are closed every minor holiday.
In today’s era of ATM’s and mobile banking, the large-scale banking lobby is a vestige of a bygone era. No longer displaying a pompous sense of security – the marbled bank lobby has become an aesthetic of greed.
Banks (and Wells Fargo in particular) don’t give a flying fuck about you! You are a small peon in their grand lobby.
- The Stagecoach
And parked in Wells Fargo’s grand lobby is the shiny red stagecoach.
The faux stagecoach situated in the lobby is supposed to give credence to Wells Fargo’s working class image. The idyllic stagecoach harkens to a simpler time, when the horse-drawn coach would race across the western plains expeditiously delivering goods to the working man.
But the glamorized imagery of the stagecoach is just that, a story, or in architectural terms: a false façade. Perhaps the lobby has to be so large – in order to fit the stagecoach. But the stagecoach is a relic of the past that provides nothing to Wells Fargo’s daily banking operations. It looks ungainly and out-of-place vacantly sitting in a sterile lobby.
However, I postulate: You would actually appreciate
Santa’s Wells Fargo’s red sleigh if it was cramped into a respectably-sized lobby.
- “What is this stagecoach doing in the Lobby? I have to literally crawl over it to get to the teller.”
“Well kid, Wells Fargo used to have an entire fleet of stagecoaches, but since the advent of telephones, it took too long to deliver a message via horse-drawn carriage. But they didn’t want to just scrap them, so they are storing it in the lobby.”
“Oh. That’s pretty neat.”
Now, I’m sure you romantic historians5 would argue that, “The stagecoach is an attractive addition that reflects the humble beginnings of this large bank. Plus, they don’t have a use for stagecoaches anymore, so the lobby is a befitting place to display these remarkably unused items.”
But they don’t have a need for horses anymore either. And you certainly don’t see a stable of mares put out to pasture, or a petting zoo of fatigued geldings grazing in the lobby!
Actually, I take this entire rant back. Having a petting zoo in a bank would be the greatest thing since the root beer flavored Dum Dum they deliver in the canister through the pneumatic air tube in the drive-through. I would be less bitter waiting on Jan to open my account if she was off feeding the horses leftover apples from her lunch pail. So go ahead – put a petting zoo in the bank lobby and have
Santa jolly employees shovel hay out of the back of the red sleigh, and I’ll gladly go re-open my fraudulent Wells Fargo account(s)?