The People’s Bank in Verona: Attention to Detail

The People’s Bank in Verona (known as Banco Popolare di Verona) was designed by architect Carlo Scarpa in the early 1970s. I traveled to Italy for business, as the guest of the luxury window company, Brombal, in late September. One of the incredible locations we visited was this little bank. It’s a contemporary building sandwiched between two historic buildings, which is itself an interesting juxtaposition that you see regularly in the historic towns. However, what really struck me was its interior, and the architect’s attention to detail.

Everywhere I turned, another little detail made the whole design just so much more unique and interesting. One of the things I noticed was that Scarpa used the theme of pairs, in both significant and small details. For example, columns were done in pairs. Even between each set of two columns, at the very top was a tiny little detail — two brass balls. I can only assume this was some sort of private joke. The recessed canned lights were done in pairs … he paired them off so there would be a set, then six feet away were another set. The theme went down to the coupled rivets on the (obviously custom) window frames. All of the walls were done in Venetian plaster, but that’s just what they do in Italy (what we think of as a luxury, is the norm there).

Pairs of columns and recessed lights

Hidden details only seen by the design devotee

The architect’s attention to detail was obvious in his use of color, too. Taupe-colored walls matched the limestone floor tiles nicely. The base along stair treads was a simple inset of limestone tile, flush with the wall. When the wall color was taupe, it was subtle. But when the wall color was dark, it stood out as a bold decorative as well as functional element.

I noticed quite a few areas where Scarpa used bold colors. I loved the boldness of the bright red plaster on the sweeping curved staircase.

Lipstick red plaster highlights the primary staircase

 

Bronze handrail with paired rivet detail

A secondary, more private staircase in deep blue, teal and indigo caught my eye. At the corner, a small geometric cutout added a tiny bit of interest.

Geometric cutout detail

Juxtaposition of color delineates form

Some details went beyond decoration to also provide a beautiful level of functionality. To protect a vulnerable corner of Venetian plaster, a flat piece of bronze metal was inset onto the wall, flush with the plaster, so that it doesn’t protrude at all. It creates an interesting visual, without being distracting or ostentatious. Many of the details in ceilings and on railings were also done in bronze. Scarpa seems fond of reveals and gaps to create interest.

Even mundane items like valves were placed in pairs

I love this space because it was so carefully planned; it didn’t just happen by accident. Like any well-designed space, the details weren’t just tacked on as an afterthought. As a designer, when I notice details like these, they are really special. What’s more, it’s an experience that unfolds and stays with me.

I’ve not really experienced a building that was designed to that degree, or that the client allowed to be designed to that degree. It takes a lot of thought, time and craftspeople who take pride in their work. Even though they may not be in-your-face details, the cumulative effect is stunning.

The People’s Bank in Verona is one of Scarpa’s last stamps on Italy’s built environment. Generations of tourists and locals will admire this architect’s attention to detail for many years to come. As for me, my delight in this space is near and dear. I strive to include similar materials (Venetian plaster, limestone and bronze) and pops of color (I just can’t get that lipstick-red staircase out of my mind). Color should delineate a space, not overwhelm it. As in Scarpa’s interior, I encourage bold color alongside neutrals. I always say: If you’re using color on walls, use it judiciously and thoughtfully.