Financial District spaces worldwide had a different need a century ago, than now.
100 years ago, the first and foremost need was to convey stability and permanence, a timelessness transcending the day’s style. Hardwoods, leather, high ceilings, all the hallmarks of a lasting cultural environment. These were places where money would be made secure. The effect is a closed one, an exclusive one.
Today, spaces meet a different need. They need to be flexible, to reflect a rapidly cycling workforce. They need to be informational, to include (and adapt to) new forms of hardware and new methods of communication between humans and systems. And in general, they need to be visually clean, to focus eyes on the deal at hand, whether it is a spreadsheet or a flickering fizz of trading screens. The effect is an open one, a paradoxically inclusive one, non-hieratic.
Paradoxical of course because the barriers to entry for this seemingly non-exclusive space increase with every battle in the war to become more and more quantitative, shave yet another millisecond off of roundtrip trading times. And paradoxical in that this banking, which requires a much more refined skills set than the Beef Wellington-and-Madeira transactional joshing of a century ago, also offers very little job security.
Where a century ago a bank work space was meant to convey permanence of capital, today’s bank work space seems meant to convey the fleeting presence of money. In this apogee of capitalism, there is very little capital to be found; almost nothing of permanent value save the space itself. Technological assets depreciate on a two- to three-year schedule. It is a space resistant to memory, nowhere memorializing the institution’s history, its past successes or failures.
I don’t recall what bank occupied this space on Finsbury Square prior to its being debrided to bare bones. Not a coincidence that catty corner, a slightly taller white space is now used as an art gallery. But, it is a sign of the times that only a close examination of the space’s informational cues, such as the number of power outlets and the the cable racks suspended from the ceiling – hint that this space is not a gallery. Like a gallery, it too is a place of ideas and perhaps, just as pure a realm of abstract art as any MoCo Vegas cube elsewhere in London.
To me, the ponderable is not, “will trading floors come to further resemble galleries?” but, in a world of locative/digital/light art, “will galleries come to further resemble trading floors?”
Finsbury Square, 8 November 2012