Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Appearances vs. Reality

There's a new building going up down the street at the site of an old Burger King which got demolished last Spring. At the moment it's just a roughly cubical framework shell of 2 x 4s. There are no signs up explaining what it's going to be, so I've been trying to glean clues from the construction.

In the middle of the thing, they've put up a small room with solid concrete walls and ceiling. Also, there's new construction for a large entranceway using metal poles and beams. From these two details, I'm guessing that it's going to be a bank.

If I were going to guess what kind of new business would be building its nest in the neighborhood, without any clues at all, I'd have to say day spa. Without thinking about it too hard, there are at least five to eight of them around here, two having opened this past year. The word "infestation" springs to mind. Ah, perhaps the concrete room is a soundproof chamber where they administer the latest in trendy skin treatments, the "battery acid peel with invigourating lye wrap", so the agonized screams don't deter new business or disturb those getting the soothing aromalight facial therapy... or not.

Nearly every bank in existance tries to convey "solid & stable" with two things: a clearly visible bank vault (usually with the solid-seeming metal door left open so you can see how thick it is) and an impressive entrance structure. If it does turn out to be a bank, I'm predicting that those metal poles will be enclosed by a thin shell of stone.

The whole thing is a carefully constructed illusion. I think it's nicely telling that the front (false image) of a bank is in fact mostly in the building's acual front (the ponderous entrance structure). Also, the entrance itself has an iconic false front-- the "stone" colums are a thin stone veneer with no structural properties, the actual strength coming from thin steel poles. Most of the building is cheap wood. Multiple layers of reference to archaic secure building techniques. A "meta-front," if you will.

One could probably seque right into an allusion to The Fountainhead here, but one shall refrain.

Since your bank actually keeps your money in a computer file somewhere and most people increasingly only rarely visit a bank branch in person, I'm wondering how long these "reassuring" structures will continue to be built. I wonder how future banks will convey "rock solid computer security and identity theft protection" in the future?


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