Thursday, April 1, 2010

From a tiny acorn, an idea grows

When the bank president approached Don it was with an unusual problem. The bank wanted to expand their building, but there were twelve, gigantic oak trees on their land, trees which the community had come to love. If the bank were to fell these trees to make way for the new addition, the community may be in an uproar. The bank could lose business to their competitors, just by raizing the trees. So, the bank set out to find an architect who could build their addition and save the trees.

After consulting four architects, the bank learned about Don Erickson. They explained their problem. Could Don design an addition to the bank without disturbing the trees that the community had come to love?

Don consulted with an arborist to determine the architecture of the trees themselves; he learned that oak trees are supported with a significant structure of roots beneath the ground. Damage these roots, and one would damage not only the support for the tree above, but the nutrient system that feed the tree.

Presented with this understanding, Don set-out to design a building around the trees. To do this, he designed the addition on caseins, cylindrical footings made of poured concrete with bell-shaped bottoms on which the building addition would “float.” These caseins needed to be placed strategically both to support the building, and in an area that would prevent damage to the root structure of the twelve, giant oak trees situated on the land. While other architects may have considered these trees impediments, Don instead considered this as an opportunity to “problem solve.”

The structure, itself, is a series of angles adorned with windows, and part of the building is literally built around the trees. In fact, some of the bank officers can actually reach out from their windows to touch the trees, and did, in fact, feed resident birds who had chosen the oak trees as their private residence.

While saving the trees added up to $75,000 in costs, the “bank scored a priceless public relations coup. . . ‘The community’s acceptance was overwhelming. We couldn’t have spent the amount in marketing dollars that it would take to get that kind of response from people.'”

Today, Wauconda National Bank is owned by Fifth Third Bank, and the new owner has assumed that mantle of “that bank with the trees.”

For building watchers, Fifth Third Bank is located at: 486 W. Liberty Street, Wauconda, Illinois.

Quotes and photographs from "Chicago Tribune," by Lisa Marie Carstone, "Friends of the Forest," April 18, 1993.

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