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Norway's Best Architecture Firm Designs the World's Best Money

A contest to design Norway's new print bank notes goes bonkers.

Norway may have avoided the global financial crisis, but they've landed themselves in a fiscal scandal. Sort of.

This week, Norges Bank announced the winners of a competition to redesign the nation's bank notes. The national bank launched the competition last December, empaneling a jury of five outside experts and one bank member. Eight designers were named as finalists for their interpretations of the contest's theme: "the sea."

In the end, the jury picked two standouts—designs by Enzo Finger and The Metric System—and decided that the commission would go to Enzo Finger, a graphic artist who has designed, among other things, a great deal of Norway's stamps.

But in a stunning reversal, Norges Bank overruled its own jury's decision. Instead, the bank decided to co-award the commission to The Metric System and the Norwegian architecture firm, Snøhetta. Now, the obverse side of each bill will feature illustrations of nautical scenes and coastal life from the sea by The Metric System. The reverse side of each bill will feature what appears to be glitch art by Snøhetta.   

(Norges Bank)

This New Aesthetic print bank note is more on trend than Bitcoin. When it is released in 2017, it will set the bar for money worldwide. Would that Norges Bank had decided to go with Snøhetta's proposal alone, which would've made the state's fiat currency even hipper. The firm suggested using photographic print images instead of illustrations for the face of the bank notes.

(Norges Bank)
(Norges Bank)

The Snøhetta-designed 50-kroner bill would've been the best piece of money in the world. On one side: a cool-looking corrupted .JPG of some lighthouse or castle or whatever. On the other side: a pic of sexy teens.

(Norges Bank)
(Norges Bank)

The bank made the right call. Snøhetta has quickly established itself as one of the top design firms in the world. In a preview of the construction that's currently underway, San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King calls the Snøhetta-designed expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art a "geological form both craggy and sleek." The firm earned wide praise for its design for the pavilion of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York. Snøhetta's work is ranging: Its design for the Vulkan Beehive is everything you would expect from those two words.

All of the bank note designs that didn't make the cut—including the ones that technically did—can be seen here. Perhaps some of the also-ran designs can be preserved for relaunching the krone coins. Norwegian painter Ellen Karin Mæhlum, for example, suggested putting portraits of plankton, choanoflagellates, and other microscopic crawlies on the face of Norwegian money. Naturally, she was one of the bank note finalists.

(Norges Bank)

About the Author

  • Kriston Capps
    Kriston Capps is a staff writer at CityLab. More

    Kriston Capps is a staff writer at CityLab, where he writes about housing, art and design. Previously, he was a senior editor at Architect magazine.