In order to bring peace, we need to come together. Like, really together.
That’s the idea behind a new “peace bench” designed for the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, which physically brings people together in the middle of its curved design.
Created by Norwegian design firm Snøhetta (which designed Europe’s first underwater restaurant) with aluminum company Hydro and sustainable furniture manufacturer Vestre, the “peace bench” has been provocatively titled The Best Weapon. This is derived from Nelson Mandela’s quote, “The best weapon is to sit down and talk,” which is engraved on the 6.5-metre (21-foot) bench itself.
Fittingly set to be unveiled at the UN on Nelson Mandela Day on July 18, the anodized aluminum bench is simultaneously a symbolic and literal representation of the need to come together and converse to find peaceful solutions to conflict.
The ‘peace bench’ in situ.
Image: Lars Tornøe
“In today’s digitalized and polarized society, sitting down and speaking together might be the most effective tool that we have to find solutions and common ground,” Snøhetta founder Kjetil Trædal Thorsen said in a press statement. “We believe in using design as a tool to create lasting symbols that foster fruitful communication.”
To be honest, it probably doesn’t feel like the most naturally peaceful thing you can do with a stranger, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the middle of a bench and striking up a conversation. But the idea is wildly optimistic, much like the hope for peaceful conversations over conflict, so perhaps it might work — or at least remain beautifully symbolic. Hopefully creeps don’t use it to sit closer to people than they’d like, and people don’t try to take up the whole thing, hammock-style.
Liv Tørres, executive director of the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, is optimistic about the bench’s practical use.
“We hope that the bench will encourage people to sit down and talk – to their friends, but also to strangers and adversaries. Genuine conversations are requirements for peace,” she said.
Here’s hoping it works.