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Not A Joke: A New Swiss Bank That Symbolizes “Ethical Banking” [Slideshow]

The bank is meant to resemble a high-end boutique — and help Swiss banking shed its corrupt connotations.

The new flagship of the Raiffeisen bank in Zurich is designed as “a prototype for an open bank” — a place where “money is not always in the foreground.” Don’t laugh. Okay, laugh a little. It’s a Swiss bank, after all, and everyone knows that Swiss banks are the Vatican of financial secrecy. But Raiffeisen wants to portray itself differently, with its fresh digs in Zurich conceptualized as a sparkling white symbol of best practices in banking. The bank is bright, beautiful, and yeah, way more transparent than most banks have any business being.

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NAU, an architecture and design firm with offices in the U.S. and Europe, and Drexler Guinand Jauslin Architects, a studio with multiple offices in Europe, were the architects here. Their design takes minimalism to the extreme, owing more to a posh hotel lobby than to the beige tastes of the banking industry.

The branch is a sparkling white symbol of best practices.

The bank’s got white walls, white counters, white workstations, white ceilings — the whole shebang. Curving panels of floor-to-ceiling glass pair with portraits of famous Zurich residents — including Albert Einstein, Richard Wagner, and Arnold Böcklin — CNC-milled in the walls to create porous barriers between rooms. Why? Who knows? But it looks pretty cool! A touchscreen table, also done up in white, lets visitors scan the latest stock quotes and news or read about regional history. “Spatially, the branch is conceived as continuous open space,” says NAU partner Jean-Lucien Gay, “a place of encounter where the customer feel free to walk in, relax and have a chat around the media table.”

The branch, Gay goes on to say, is the first Raiffeisen Switzerland outpost focused on “‘ethical’ private banking” and represents one of more to come (though they’ll be designed by different architects). Raiffeisen certainly isn’t the first bank to use architecture and design as shorthand for financial idealism. We’ve seen similar efforts everywhere from Stockholm to Melbourne. And maybe it’s all window dressing. Maybe all that white and sleek glass and chic Einstein art has less to do with monumentalizing an ethical business model than with making clients feel like they’re part of just another exclusive club. By NAU’s own admission: Raiffeisen is designed to hint at the aesthetic of a “high-end boutique.” But hey, at least the rest of us plebes can actually see inside.

[Images courtesy of NAU]

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About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D

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