Eero Saarinen’s Irwin Conference Center (formerly the Irwin Union Bank and Trust) anchors the busy corner of Fifth and Washington Streets. Built in 1954, Saarinen’s design would influence the architecture of financial institutions for decades to come. Material and textured flourishes inside and out transformed the modernist “glass box” into a welcoming and convivial space. With an open plan and spacious counters without the typical teller’s cages separating the bank from its customers, Saarinen’s Irwin Trust Bank was a complete reimagining of what a bank was architecturally, as well as of its place in the community.
Oyler Wu Collaborative’s research into Eero Saarinen’s oeuvre leads them to focus on three key concepts: Euclidean geometries, solid/void relationships, and tectonics. Their design fabricates a new space within the site by completing the geometries implied by three canopies, legacies of Irwin Conference Center’s history as a drive-up bank. The rectilinear space, defined by the existing canopies and completed by new walls- some solid, some sketched in lines or carved away into voids- is enlivened by sophisticated tectonic interplay with embedded objects derived from Oyler Wu’s particular idiom. The resulting complex of canopies, walls, and benches produce new areas of containment and new points of destination.
Ball Nogues Studio echoes the plan and roof of Irwin Conference Center with a square pavilion marked by nine round voids. The title, Bank and Trust in Paper, references the site’s original name. Mounted on a steel frame, the pavilion’s canopy is formed of recycled paper pulp shaped by the studio’s unique flexible molding system. The canopy design references motifs and objects from Saarinen’s designs - like the iconic tulip chair - because the objects themselves can be used in the molding process. The paper skin of the canopy (with water-resistant ingredients) filters and softens sunlight in the daytime, while at night it is lit from within, evoking festive paper lanterns and inviting visitors into the space it shelters.