Contract Design Magazine Ι June 24, 2015

INNOCAD co-founder Martin Lesjak, Contract magazine’s 2015 Designer of the Year, develops new products for every interior project, and his Volksbank South Tyrol bank headquarters is no different. The custom Berg & Tal furniture system—designed in collaboration with the firm bergundtal—defines the 86,000-square-foot space in the Northern Italy town of Bolzano. But it’s probably more accurate to say that this angular wood furniture is actually three inventions in one: lounge furniture for quick informal meetings, storage space, and space-defining room dividers for an open-plan office building.

In a dramatic change for the typically hierarchical and cloistered world of banking, the Volksbank headquarters does not have private, enclosed offices. The interiors are defined by the Berg & Tal system and a series of concrete enclosures are painted by artist Esther Stocker to refer to regionally significant flora. These, and other geographic references, add a vocabulary of richly textured, regionally specific materials to INNOCAD’s modern approach.

Mountains and valleys

The plan for this bank headquarters for 300 employees begins with its 14-sided mutated polygon floor plate. Lesjak knew he would have to conserve space as much as possible across the bank interior’s zigzagging four floors. Dividing with multiple walls would have left them “with a lot of wasted space,” he says.

Placed along the central axis of the top three office floors, the Berg & Tal furniture demarcates the space, offers seating and storage, and keeps the perimeter of the office open for desks bathed in natural light from expansive windows. Made of oak, a tree that is central to Northern Italy’s identity, the furniture is named berg, German for “mountain,” and tal, German for “valley,” and its rectilinear contours call to mind Bolzano’s mountains. The architecture firm bergundtal takes its name from the same inspiration, and it collaborated with INNOCAD on the design of the furniture and interiors. Italian architect Thomas Duregger of bergundtal met Lesjak while they were students, and his firm invited INNOCAD to work together on Volksbank.

A series of concrete-enclosed spaces contains service areas such as elevators, stairs, and bathrooms. Stocker’s commissioned artwork called Wall Works is painted onto the oblong-shaped, curving concrete enclosures that contrast with the sharp angles of the floor plate. The black-and-white crosshatches of Wall Works call to mind bark from a birch tree, another locally significant tree; the mottled concrete surface evoking wood’s organic imperfections. However, the tree metaphor really hits home when viewing the building from outside. Seen through floor-to-ceiling windows, the curved concrete walls run from bottom to top “like tree trunks,” Lesjak says.

A tour of Northern Italy

The top three floors are mostly open-plan office space with a muted black, white, and gray color scheme with accents of yellow found in casual chairs. In contrast, the ground floor is a vibrant and public social condenser, offering meeting rooms that are at the heart of INNOCAD’s growing portfolio of corporate office spaces that prize areas for active, informal collaboration above all else. Five of the ground-floor meeting rooms are articulated with a wide range of materials and Northern Italy landscape references. The electric blue Water Room, with its white MDF podium chairs and circular XAL ceiling lights, refers to the area’s rivers. The Stone Room displays Lesjak’s 13&9 Design Rock Collection lamps among earth-toned gray and brown slate paneling, a reference to the area’s mining history. “It’s a contemporary space, but with the materials, it has a very [tactile] feeling,” Lesjak says. “It speaks to the mentality of Northern Italy.”

This textural and chromatic tour of Northern Italy gives staff the chance to tailor their working environment as needed with a variety of both enclosed and unenclosed social spaces for four to 22 people.

The building engages the public in a unique way. Incorporating a bank branch, the active ground floor includes a cafe, lounge, and event space that allows Volksbank to host public lectures on financial topics. This is part of an effort to reaffirm the importance of local bank branches in an era of online transactions. Volksbank wants customers to both do their banking and have a reason to linger, building up face-to-face relationships.

“If [banks] lose the personal contact, the client can go anywhere,” says Lesjak, who describes his goal for the Volksbank ground floor to be “not a transaction space, but a communication and social space.”

Designers: INNOCAD with bergundtal
Architect: Christian Rübbert
Client: Volksbank South Tyrol
Where: Bolzano, Italy
What: 86,000 total square feet on four floors
Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request