Bridging the Gap: Architectural Design and the European Union’s Search for Cultural Form
by Anna Walling (Undergraduate, Architecture)
Winner: Second Prize, Undergraduate Student Competition
In November 1994, the Council of the European Monetary Institute asked the Banknote Working Group to make proposals for design themes for the euro banknotes series. The group, which was made up primarily of the chief cashiers of the national central banks and general managers of the printing works owed by the central banks, worked closely with an external advisory body, the Theme Selection Advisory Group, which consisted of experts in the fields of history, art, psychology, general design and banknote design.
The designs of the seven banknotes are non-representational in that they do not refer to a particular building but to what are obviously symbols of openness and access, bridges, windows, and gateways stylized according to major periods in European cultural history. The central motif however is a bridge – and not one of the famous bridges that might be suggestive of a national culture – but a universalistic one that is devoid of history and removed from particularistic national contexts. The abstract styles combined with resonances of European cultural history are intended to codify European identity in which historical memory is not burdened by national differences or ethnic content.
As a student of the discipline, my intent was to study the relationship between architecture and cultural identity. Architecture has been the quintessentially universalistic expression of civilization, since all the great architectural designs – classical Greek, Romanesque, Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, Modernist – have been universalistic in their self-understanding and one of the most important expressions of European civilization transcending the particularism of its national cultures. It comes as no surprise that in an attempt to establish an official European identity, the European Union employed architecture in its design of the euro banknote.
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