Break the Bank

Harnessing the hub of activity that is Union Square for its flagship branch location in New York, Capital One breaks the mold, showing customers that a banking experience can go beyond “What’s in your wallet?”

By Jenny S. Rebholz

When you are thinking of a location for a quick business meeting, a spot to grab a cup of coffee or a place to access Wi-Fi and get a little work done, does a bank come to mind? Capital One and Baltimore-based CallisonRTKL have brought a new banking experience to New York’s Union Square in the form of a 12,000-sq.-ft. flagship branch location, an experience that adds to the energy and activity of this vibrant new gathering space consumers will want to check out.

“We began working with Capital One in 2012,” says Cris Gunter, CallisonRTKL’s senior associate vice president and Capital One account manager. “Previous projects have explored many different concepts, but the bank really wanted to pull away from a traditional format with this space. This was an opportunity to bring all of the ideas together for this flagship location.”

The Union Square area is a bustling hub of activity, including farmer’s markets, rallies and art shows. The prominent corner location allows the building to overlook all of this activity, and the steady stream of traffic due to the adjacent subway exit adds to the excitement of the locale.

While the building offered the perfect strategic real estate, it was not without its challenges. The three-story space was previously demised for separate uses; it had never been used by one tenant. As a result, the team needed to work within the structure to create sufficient public access, egress and circulation, while working around abnormal column and beam placements and varying ceiling heights. The architecture team had to “thread” in the staircases for vertical circulation, Gunter explains.

The goal of the project was to make the most of this high-traffic, high-visibility corner to showcase Capital One’s vision of treating a bank branch differently, a unique experience for customers and a true differentiator from the competition.

“The location in Union Square offers space for customers, neighborhood and community members/partners to use should they need a work or meeting space,” says China Fowler, design strategy, senior manager, Capital One. “The space is designed to continually give new experiences each time you walk through—from little messages and moments that make you feel good about what you’re doing there, to an interactive, visual-forward ethos that inspires you to do things on your own terms.”

Whether entering from East 14th Street or on the Broadway side, visitors are quickly oriented within the space and are able to establish a sense of place. From either entry point, there are direct views to Peet’s Coffee & Tea anchoring the experience at the rear of the ground-level floorplan. Lighting and flooring applications subtly guide visitors toward the coffee shop, with banks of ATMs easily accessible at either entry. The ceiling on the ground floor is a high, exposed structure, which the team finished in charcoal gray to accentuate the sense of volume. A communal area with barstool perches overlooks the street activity and park, providing space to linger, access Wi-Fi and enjoy a cup of coffee. “It is an active area for people to talk and meet, a vibrant ground level and mezzanine,” Gunter describes.

While the eye is directed to Peet’s toward the rear, a dramatic, glass-enclosed “threaded” staircase is located at mid-plan and allows visitors to move upstairs, a gateway to the branch, or downstairs to staff areas and bank operations, including training spaces and a break room. A wood-slat feature wall serves as the backdrop for the staircase. It includes a subtle oversized embossing of the Capital One “boom” logo achieved with a reversal of woodgrain. On the front side of the stairs, three-dimensional brand signage is mounted on clear glass.

A dynamic LED wall serves as a signature design element and dramatic detail that creates impact on the exterior and interior. The colorful display begins at the corner ATM wall and continues up the same plane to the second level, where it transitions into the ceiling and then extends out of the building creating an exterior eyebrow. “Standing outside, you can see the dynamic LED display changing with visually stunning graphics,” Gunter says. “We deliberately did not use marketing messages in this display. It is an ever-changing wash of color that is visually challenging and exciting.”

The staircase design and LED display direct attention upstairs to the more traditional functions of the bank. This upper floor plays off the ground-level Peet’s coffeehouse vibe with areas to hang out and use Wi-Fi, not just typical bank functions. A long community table with tablets allows people to connect with staff. Multiple seating areas—such as two-top booths, a quiet lounge area overlooking Union Square and semi-private spaces with barn doors—provide options for interactions. Staff and customers can grab a tablet and go to any area where they feel most comfortable for one-on-one consulting. The teller line is also located in this area for those ready to complete basic transactions.

“From advice on bank accounts to getting help to apply for a loan, our Union Square flagship branch location is not just a bank. It’s an innovative space where you can experience a new way of banking,” Fowler says.

The lower level serves as an employee-focused area, with conferencing space and a training facility. A variety of workspaces support user comfort, and flexibility is addressed with an operable wall that can divide the area for multiple uses. Nooks with barn doors and upholstered niches are popular options for comfortable work and meeting spaces.

The material and finish palette offers a neutral background with a variety of wood species. The light wood tones were combined with a generous use of white. White or charcoal gray were used on the ceilings where appropriate to enhance the volume of each floor. A playful use of woodgrains serves as a backdrop against which the Capital One brand hues of blue, red and yellow add pops of color to the space. The brand colors are sprinkled in as furniture finishes, upholstery in the niches, accent walls and details such as contrasting stitching.

The flooring specifications were varied based on the best use for traffic and circulation. A long, plank-style, woodgrained tile was used in high-traffic areas, while carpet with a graphic that simulates a plank look was inset in the lounge area and the employee areas on the lower level.

Due to the ceiling heights and the LED wall, the lighting strategy was a challenge in order to properly complement, and not wash out, the kinetic images. Collaborating with a lighting consultant, the team selected a variety of fixtures to achieve the best functionality for the space. While the team worked to control light levels, there were still specific requirements needed in certain areas, such as by the ATMs. Special attention also was given to nooks and niches to provide a lower level of light that is inviting yet supports the idea of retreating.

As part of the effort to create a new banking experience, Capital One marketing was handled subtly and in a completely digital format. “We were trying to de-emphasize what is commonly found in other banks and really get away from [printed or permanent material],” Gunter says. “We were tasked to rethink and reimagine the banking experience and not bombard people with messaging.”

CallisonRTKL and Capital One took the opportunity to reimagine banking in a three-dimensional environment at the Union Square location. A beacon of color and enticing graphics add to the vibrant area and entice people to explore Capital One. “It looks good, functions well and has exceeded our expectations,” Gunter says. “It is such an enthusiastic and exciting space that invites people to hang out. The branch is a wonderful amenity for a busy square.”


project file

Capital One Union Square Flagship
New York

Capital One


Richer and Ratner

Fiskaa LLC (MEP), Gilsanz Murray Steficek LLP Engineers (structural), Project Expediter’s Consulting Corp. (expediter), Oculus Light Studio (lighting design), JLL – Capital One Account (project/construction manager), Gilmore Group (LED wall design)

Industrial Floorworks (concrete flooring), Interface (carpet), American Marble and Stone Services Inc. (tile), Daltile (tile), Tandus Centiva (resilient flooring), Get Real Surfaces (cast stone treads)

Terra Mai (reclaimed wood), Fitzfelt (textile), Spinneybeck (leather), Daltile (tile)

Bernhardt, JF Fabrics, Maharam, Knoll Textiles, Wollsdorf/Herman Miller, Momentum Group

Baker Marble and Granite (marble casework finish), NY Stone Manhattan (granite casework finish)

D3 LED LLC (LED hardware)

Information in the project file is provided by the retailer and/or design firm.

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