Banking on “Green” of the Sustainable Kind
Reimagining how banks look and feel, while reducing their long-term costs
By Rick Reynolds
When the Savings Bank of Walpole wanted to reimagine their new Keene, NH, branch to service the city’s northernmost sector, they hired local green-builder, Bensonwood, of Walpole, NH, to break different ground. As a harbinger for their new branches going forward, the new branch would need to be energy efficient, friendly, open and accessible, all while providing a superior experience for customers and employees alike.
While these qualities might seem academic in our environmentally aware, customer-centric and employee-oriented times, traditional banking architecture—with its heavy walls, vaults, tellers behind thick glass and bank personnel walled off from customers and each other—often feels more fortress-like than friendly. This would not do in an era where most perfunctory banking tasks occur online. Today, transactional banking is more about developing relationships than projecting physical security.
“For bank customers and personnel alike, the new open, airy, biophilic design is one that fosters service, support and assistance,” according to Bensonwood architect, Randall Walter. “Meeting face-to-face with customers encourages conversations and relationships. It also means healthier, happier personnel, with less stress, greater job satisfaction and less absenteeism.”
Towards these ends, Walter, collaborating with the bank’s administrative team, started thinking about the structure’s exterior aesthetic.
Quintessentially New England, low maintenance clapboard siding was chosen to mirror downtown, residential Keene architecture, while the structure’s location on the city’s outskirts suggested it reflect the barns and rural agricultural areas just outside the city limits. In ensuring that all four sides of the building remain attractive, with no mechanicals visible from outside, Walter’s design integrated heat pumps in a recessed roof area, not visible from the street level. Roof-mounted solar panels complete the roof plane, also screening the mechanical systems from the roadside.
Next, it was important for the bank to have their brand prominently displayed. The timberframe tower entry structure frames their logo and weathervane signage, with the timbers themselves reinforcing the brand’s strength.
Natural and accent lighting
Moving inside, Randall Walter, along with colleague, Aaron Cusimano, collaborated with the bank’s team in selecting the interior colors and finishes. Both natural light and accent lighting add a sense of volume beyond its 1800 square feet, bathing the interior three sides of the main lobby. Clerestory windows add natural light, while saving on artificial lighting. The warm, light-filled interior, with its white walls and golden timberframe elements, is visible from outside, adding to the dramatic allure of the groundbreaking new branch.
Sustainability and durability
As for the sustainability piece, the building has R-22 walls and R-44 roof with dense-pack cellulose insulation and superior airtightness. Moreover, durability took center stage on the sustainable project, with low operational costs due to its net-zero ready design, roof-mounted photovoltaics, double-glazed, fiberglass-clad windows permitting passive solar gain and durable, low-maintenance, exterior fiber cement siding.
“At the end of the day, drastically reducing long-term costs for our client was what this project—and many of our projects—are all about,” said Walter. “As such, Bensonwood was a good fit because of its well-earned reputation for energy efficiency and durability, without sacrificing beauty.”
The new bank branch was well-received and rapidly approved by the city of Keene.