Digital bank Xapo chose the site of the ex-Gibraltar Crystal Factory as the location for their international headquarters in Gibraltar.
“We won a Group Heritage Award in 2021 for the work we did here and as a result of that I have been asked to give a tour for the Gibraltar Heritage society in December,” says Albert Rocca, Brand Ambassador for Xapo Bank Gibraltar. “We needed a physical presence for our digital bank and we wanted to show that we were doing something new within something old.”
Albert explains that there was a three pronged effort that went into the final result. “Xapo found the space and then approached Lagranja Design who presented us with the designs which were then handed over to Frankwin van Kleef’s design and construction firm Invision Design, so it was a collaborative approach.”
“We picked this spot because it has always been a very important space within the history of Gibraltar, from the Moors in 711 who built a stronghold here and through the centuries to the 1500s when the battlements at the back were built by the Spanish, and then from the 1700s where bomb proof barracks were built,” Albert explains. “There are over 1,200 years of history on this site and we had to decide what to reveal.”
The bank occupies two arched bays of the barracks complex, constructed in limestone (interestingly shipped to Gibraltar from Cardiff), with the ceilings supported by original wooden beams. These, and the stone walls, were cleaned, restored, and left in their natural state, lending the space a feeling of an ancient bank vault.
There are distinctly different zoned areas, the first being the common area open to the public where shallow pools flank either side of the reception hall which can be used for art and cultural events. “The water acts as a mirror and because we couldn’t build up or down, it gives height, depth and a luminosity to the space.” At night, people passing by will notice laser beams crisscrossing the pools.
“This area will hopefully attract the public into asking what else is here and what is inside the other areas of Xapo Bank,” Albert states. Members of the bank can use the banking hall, entered via the original stones arches and accessed via a security facial recognition keypad. Behind this is a boardroom and the far end opens out onto a walled patio which can be used as both a leisure and work area.
“Everything that we built says something about us, for example everything in the banking hall is biodegradable,” Albert says, pointing out a room divider made out of 3D printed corn based plastic.
Xapo Bank is a remote firm, with over 250 employees working in 42 countries around the globe, so Zoom is an important part of the infrastructure. “Xapo was ahead of the curve in adopting Zoom in 2016, but it is now commonplace to have Wi-Fi in boardrooms,” he comments.
Albert takes me into a small room, a workspace now also used for staff meetings that was uncovered as the building process commenced. “It was a room lost to time, but as we started cleaning the walls we found an entrance to this catacomb.” One of the downsides of keeping the heritage intact is that the stone walls have to be painted every four weeks otherwise they would crumble. “There is a constant upkeep for this monument,” Albert remarks.
We pass by what Albert refers to as ‘the Harry Potter steps’. “They go up to nowhere but were once used by soldiers from the Garrison who would go into the gun powder magazine and then run up the steps to defend the Garrison from above the wall.” As we enter another small space, now used as a wine cellar, Albert points out a wall from 711, another from 1533 and one from 1817, with a small nook on one wall displaying glass shards from the factory. “This is part of a bombproof room that is now a timeline of the history of the building,” Albert says. To the left of this is the old gunpowder magazine, now a bar. “It was going to be a meeting room but when we told our staff to bring something with them that represents where they come from on their yearly visit to Gibraltar, we ended up with bottles of wines and spirits from all over the world.”
Albert is hugely proud of the building that represents Xapo Bank’s presence in Gibraltar. “We want to showcase the resilience and security that the Rock cements in our mind – it means an immovable secure, safe thing.”
“Then there is the very well respected regulatory authority which made it so hard for us, and we managed to not only get a Banking Licence but a DLT licence as well, so that is why we are headquartered here in Gibraltar, and it is a global branch – and there is only one branch in the whole world.”