The euro may be an appropriate place to start, particularly its process of becoming the euro; from its genesis in 1992, if only as an object of logistical preparation, to the mid-90s with its round-trips from the Corel-drawing board, inkjet printout, to committee member’s hand; the intensive pan-national endeavor to find the suitable hand-to-hand, market-to-market, vault-to-vault, banknote form; then January 1, 1999 when the euro was born by exchange, a conspicuously free spirit traded only by banks, solely within financial markets (a “virtual” currency as Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, described it); and on to its late-early days: January 1, 2002, when the euro became a “real” currency (“real” being equivalent to “tangible” for Trichet). Mathematical process, production process, rational process, situated within social process, political process, and advanced industrial process; a myriad of possibly quantifiable processes, woven together in an effort to sustain the young euro’s life and viability as a single standard European currency… and all this before it had entered the hand of butcher, baker or candlestick-maker.
To extend the starting place: Prior to the euro being established in financial markets the euro banknote was already well on its way in the design stage of production. Five years before the launch of the “virtual” euro research and design had begun on a material form to which to tie the euro name. Of utmost importance was settling upon the banknote’s look, its technology. What was needed? –for example, security features that deter counterfeiting. What was to be represented? –a collective European identity? –or democratic values of the EU? In other words: by 1994 it was time to begin to decide what was desired of the euro banknote as a designed object by those who were creating it. The European Monetary Institute (EMI), predecessor of the European Central Bank (ECB), created and mandated committees, such as the Working Group on Printing and Issuing a European Banknote (BNWG), commissioned a series of studies and reports, such as On The Selection of a Theme for the European Banknote Series, and launched a design competition in 1996, all with the stated purpose of creating a new series of banknotes to replace many of the European Union member state currencies (“new cash in 12 European countries” –Trichet). As EMI reports were generated and metabolized, committees convened and adjourned, the process advanced and the coding, or representational demands, for the notes began to become more solidified. It was determined that sharply contrasting colors, large, bold numerals and an incremental difference in surface area would be the keys to distinction between notes of differing value; the color coding used for the bills would be derived from the color system developed by the Swiss painter and teacher Johannes Itten. A further determination was that it would be in the best interest of the banknote to avoid representations of historical persons, as the EMI was concerned
that there was a potential for gender imbalance in representation. Additionally, it was decided
that the inclusion of even the most anonymous European likeness should be ruled out, as its inclusion could be off-putting to non-EU persons or entities, leading to the exclusion of all human pictorial representation from the banknotes. Type and text was to be kept to a minimum on the notes; numerals denoting value, the signature of the current ECB president, the bill’s serial number and production code, and the ECB and euro logo were to be the bulk of the euro’s reading material.
In order to fulfill the desire for both a secure and aesthetically pleasing paper note a series of themes were generated; the Theme Selection Advisory Committee was created in order to determine the most fitting; out of an initial eighteen three themes were chosen: Ages and Styles of Europe, Heritage of Europe, and Abstract Theme and Security; of the three themes Ages and Styles of Europe was chosen.
Each denomination was assigned an age and style of Europe: 5 = Classical, 10 = Romanesque, 20 = Gothic, 50 = Renaissance, 100 = Baroque and Rococo, 200 = Iron and Glass, 500 = Modern architecture. The ages and styles of genocide, nuclear power, and Cold War were omitted, or perhaps included by proxy. Motifs conveying the elected ages and styles for each banknote would consist of windows (for the front) and bridges (for the back); windows and bridges would provide “sufficient neutrality” according to the winner of the design competition, Robert Kalina. These architectural elements were to be specifically European in character but reduced in their design so that they would not correspond to any specific location or built structure –they were to be generic versions of existing forms. Out of concern for the euro as a stabile currency the EMI required that all motifs be sound architectural models, and to this end architects and engineers were consulted to ensure the structural stability of the architectural designs. The euro symbol too, with its two horizontal, parallel lines was also designed to reinforce the soundness of the currency.