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Snøhetta designed a smiling ‘peace bench’ to bring people together

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It’s nearly impossible to not sit close on it

Two moms and babies sitting on arched bench. Bjørnar Øvrebø

A bench is just a bench, unless it’s been commissioned by the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. In that case, a bench is more of a symbol—a bridge between nations if you will.

Snøhetta, the Norwegian architecture firm behind net-zero office buildings and an epic underwater restaurant, worked with two other Norwegian companies—aluminum manufacturer Hydro and outdoor furniture manufacturer Vestre—to create a bench that would do just that (or at least provide people a cool place to rest for a minute or two).

Officially named “The Best Weapon”, after Nelson Mandela’s quote, “The best weapon is to sit down and talk”, the design is intended to evoke unity, and appropriately made its debut at the entrance of the United Nations Headquarters Plaza in New York City in time for the 74th session of the UN General Assembly last month.

“The Peace Bench creates a platform for human interaction; it’s the ultimate conversation starter given its shape that encourages people to sit down and talk,” says Jan Christian Vestre, CEO of Vestre. “Because the bench is the result of four Norwegian entities coming together, it also shows what can be achieved when culture, design, and manufacturing join forces.”

Two people sitting on bench arched upward.
The bench was made on the Norwegian West Coast and then anodized in Sweden, before arriving in New York City in a wooden crate especially created to transport the piece.
Bjørnar Øvrebø

The 370-pound “peace bench” spans 21 feet of anodized aluminum that bends upward into a smile of sorts, with just the arc of the bench touching the ground. The idea, Snøhetta founder Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, explains, is to force people to sit next to each other.

“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.”

Indeed, it would be difficult to sit on the ends of the bench. Impossible really.

The bench will remain at the UN Headquarters Plaza through October 15, after which it will then be shipped to its permanent location near the Nobel Peace Center and Oslo City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually.

Close up shot of squared bench arched upward.
A local crew of six people worked to install the piece.
Bjørnar Øvrebø