Fostering closeness and understanding is one of the best ways to promote peace. Architecture firm Snøhetta demonstrates this concept with a sculptural piece of furniture entitled “The Best Weapon,” an urban “peace bench” first unveiled outside the United Nations Headquarters’ Plaza in New York City. This week, it will move to its permanent location near the Nobel Peace Center and Oslo City Hall in Norway.
Commissioned by the Nobel Peace Center, “The Best Weapon” is named after Nelson Mandela’s historic quote, “The best weapon is to sit down and talk.” It aims to honor past Nobel laureates and their efforts to promote peace around the world.
The design is like that of a static see-saw. If it were mobile, it would require cooperation between the people using either end. Making it stationary not only ensures that it’s a safe permanent fixture for the public to enjoy, but also emphasizes the fact that the best progress toward mutual compassion comes from having a dialogue with each other.
“The Best Weapon delivers a message of peace and conflict resolution, both as a functional piece that encourages conversation and social intimacy, and as a resilient symbol that anchors the Peace Center’s mission for discourse and peace,” say the architects.
They add: “The Best Weapon manifests the values of the Nobel Peace Center and pays homage to Nelson Mandela’s humane ideals of compromise, dialogue, and compassion. Designed as a partial circle that meets the ground at its lowest point, the gentle arc of the bench pulls those sitting on it closer together, subsequently and subtly encouraging dialogue.”
The peace bench also makes a statement about sustainability and its importance for the future of humanity on Earth. Made of anodized aluminum from Hydro — the world’s greenest with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions than the industry average — the bench has a semi-circular shape that encourages users to sit close together. It measures 6.5 meters long (about 21 feet) and was produced by Vestre in a completely carbon neutral process.
“Bead-based and pre-distressed, the sturdy material will ensure the bench’s longevity, promoting diplomacy and dialogue for many years to come. In addition to creating a beautiful surface, the anodized finish of the bench has high corrosion resistance and protection against scratching.”
Based in Oslo, the international architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, product design, and graphic design office Snøhetta is a fitting choice for the project. The firm is known for producing thought-provoking works across its broad spectrum of disciplines, from the spectacular Shanghai Grand Opera House to Europe’s first underwater restaurant and even a new paper currency design for the Central Bank of Norway.
They explain: “Our work strives to enhance our sense of surroundings, identity, and relationship to others and the physical spaces we inhabit, whether feral or human-made. Museums, products, reindeer observatories, graphics, landscapes, and dollhouses get the same care and attention to purpose.”
“We place experience at the center of our design process, for a design that engages the senses and physicality of the body while fostering social interaction. This allows our designs to promote both individual and collective empowerment in the communities where we work.”