Come and see the big banknote building

  • 2008-02-13
  • By Howard Jarvis

PRESTIGIOUS OR LUDICROUS: Office Center 1000 glows in the dark, making it a bizarre site by night as well as by day.

KAUNAS - They say that money doesn't grow on trees. Well, in Kaunas it grows on buildings. Earlier, if tourists ever bothered to visit Lithuania's dog-eared interwar capital at all, it was to see the Italian Baroque majesty of Pazaislis or quirky Old Town highlights such as the Thunder House and the White Swan. Now, however, a contender for the title of oddest Kaunas tourist attraction of 2008 is Office Center 1000.

A curvaceous, luminous, 10-floor office building designed in the form of a LTL 1,000 banknote, Office Center 1000 is being touted locally as one of the Baltic region's most daring and original construction projects. The exterior is virtually finished, but the interior will only be fully completed in June. That's when the lucky companies that have signed up for this Class A office space will be able to move in.

Jonas Plenta, marketing manager of Urmas, the company behind the project, insists that the new structure is not simply a mighty monument to the power of money.

"At around the same time we were assessing some of the design projects for a new office building in 2005, Lithuania was one of two new EU member states applying to join the euro zone. We happened to come across a very elegant banknote dating from 1926, and decided to use it as our overall theme."

The exterior consists of 4,500 different pieces of glass with enamel designs, which are being slotted together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The glass was made in the Netherlands and shipped over, and it can, Plenta assures, withstand even the most extreme Lithuanian weather.

Acclaimed Dutch artist Rob Borgmann, managing director of Glass Printing International and a specialist of the "screenprinting" technique of placing images on glass for use in building facades, gave valuable advice on the Kaunas project. He previously worked on bold architectural projects such as the multicolored Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision near Amsterdam.

He intends to include Office Center 1000 in future collections of his best works, both in books and on the world stage in expos and trade fairs.

The chief Lithuanian architect is Rimas Adomaitis, a young and relatively unknown but promising talent who enjoys experimenting with forms and new technologies.

It was obvious that the highly modern appearance of the building would clash with the much older architecture of the city center. This is one reason why Urmas instead chose a location in the northern suburbs, close to the Vilnius-Kaunas-Klaipeda highway. Busines-ses like the idea. For outsiders, Kaunas is infamously difficult to negotiate by car.

"We consulted many architects and historians. All of them told us our building was not suitable for the city center," said Plenta. "Even the Lithuanian Central Bank, where we had to apply for a license to use the banknote, tried to advise us on where to locate the building, saying that such a prestigious construction should be in the capital, not in Kaunas."

Appropriately enough, two main players in the Lithuanian banking market, SEB and Snoras Bankas, were among the first takers for tenancy. So far, Office Center 1000 is 85 percent full, with space now available only on the more expensive upper floors. The 10th floor, in fact, is an excellent location for an office; on a fine day, you can just make out the Baroque spires of Pazaislis.

Office Center 1000
Corner of Taikos and Pramones streets, Kaunas