February 1, 2005
The Chill Room
To mark its accession to the United Nations, the Swiss government bestowed the organization with a new interior for its famous headquarters.
Moments of quiet contemplation are important—especially if you’re a leader about to give a speech to a room full of delegates from the world’s most important countries. The staging area of the United Nation’s General Assembly hall, otherwise known as GA-200, had aged along with the rest of the famous UN building, which was completed in 1952 by Wallace K. Harrison, Le Corbusier, and Oscar Niemeyer, among others. Now, in response to Switzerland’s 2002 accession into the UN, the Swiss government has bestowed the organization with a gift in the form of a new GA-200 interior designed by Inlay, a team of Swiss architects and artists.
The cool minimalist network of rooms, with private offices and a waiting area for the secretary-general and president of the UN, is Swiss to the core. Resembling a hotel lounge, the 2,000-square-foot waiting room—outfitted with a layer of warm walnut wood and a cream-colored carpet—was completed in just four months. Custom-fabricated furniture, such as foldout desks and seamless wall cabinets, was incorporated to make the simple space adaptable for work or contemplation. Thick automated doors slide shut to create smaller spaces or disappear into the wall to leave a single expansive room.
Inlay—a collaboration between Basel’s Buchner Bründler Architekten, Biel-based architects MLZD, and art group RELAX, of Zurich—discovered after winning the competition from among more than 50 entrants that the original shape of the room was a butterfly layout with dramatically curved opposing walls. “Before we did the renovation, you couldn’t recognize that you were in this organic shape,” says firm principal Andreas Bründler.
The team restored the original curves, painting one wall fluorescent green and inscribing it with the UN charter in the organization’s six official languages—Arabic, English, French, Chinese, Spanish, and Russian—all in a slight relief that is undetectable until the viewer is inches from the wall. Stealth inscriptions of the word peace can also be found randomly on walls, desks, and tables.
Despite the high cool quotient, Bründler maintains that the design is premised on the idea of a nonhierarchical space with the atmosphere of the original Le Corbusier/Niemeyer architecture. “Although there are some very important people passing through there, at the same time there are secretaries and people who are working there all day without sunlight,” he says. “It’s best to accept the language of the building—and just to brighten up certain spots.”
We can only hope that the next time a national leader—George W. comes to mind—waits in this democratic space to deliver a speech to the international community, he leaves in a Swiss state of mind.