Located in front of New York’s UN Headquarters, the Peace Bench gestures up like a smile – and literally brings people in. Designed by Snøhetta, the curved public bench meets the UN building’s buttoned-down International Style aesthetic with a sort of impish grin. After its summertime stint in Manhattan, the bench is now set to move to its permanent home in Oslo.
Commissioned by the Nobel Peace Center, the bench will be at its New York City site until October 15. The installation will then be moved to a prominent location in the Norwegian capital, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded every year.
Created in collaboration with outdoor furniture maker Vestre and aluminum manufacturer Hydro, the playful bench is designed with a social mandate. Sloped to the ground, it pushes people together, creating a physical closeness meant to foster interaction and – more optimistically – mutual understanding. It’s practically impossible to sit at opposite sides.
Nobel Peace Centre Director Liv Tørres hails the installation as a path to dialogue. “In order to achieve peace we actually need to sit down and talk to our adversaries and opponents … that’s why the bench is important,” says Tørres.
Snøhetta co-founder Kjetil Trædal Thorsen echoes similarly far-reaching sentiments. “The foremost precondition for peace is bringing people together,” he says. “We believe in using design as a tool to create lasting symbols that foster fruitful communication.”
It’s a lofty mandate for a piece of aluminum. While the message of peace and unity through proximity is uncomfortably simplistic, the guileless optimism of a smiley face design undercuts some of the tension. The Peace Bench is a symbol of unity, not a means of manufacturing it.
The Peace Bench is also a showcase of Norwegian innovation from Snøhetta, Vestre and Hydro, which are all Norwegian companies. The Hydro steel and anodized aluminum used to manufacture the bench is touted as “the cleanest in the world,” offering a 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions compared to the global average.
Weighing nearly 400 pounds, the 21-foot span is an unmistakable presence in the public realm. Claims to its importance, however, risk overstating the power of design. The Peace Bench is not a solution to any of the world’s problems, but its smile is contagious. For a place to sit, that’s more than enough.
Commissioned by the Nobel Peace Center, the playful design comes with a lofty social mandate.