Hella Jongerius leads redesign of UN building

Interiors of Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer-designed New York HQ to be transformed by Dutch designer
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North Delegates Lounge of in the United Nations headquarters in New York
North Delegates Lounge of in the United Nations headquarters in New York

Nations of the world will unite for a design project that will see the interior of the United Nations Headquarters in New York renovated completely. A different country will take financial responsibility for the makeover of certain areas within the building. Denmark is redesigning the Council Chamber, Russia the Security Council and Turkey the Ambassador Lounge. The entire project will complete early next year. An all-Dutch design team lead by Hella Jongerius and including Rem Koolhaas, Irma Boom, Gabriel Lester and Louise Schouwenberg has already begun to redesign the north delegates’ lounge (pictured above).

The lounge, an informal sitting space used for networking and relaxing, is often referred to as the place where the real work gets done. “The lounge is large, with these monumental windows looking at the East River,” says Jongerius. Koolhaas and OMA, who will revise the lounge’s layout and remove a mezzanine added in 1979, will transform the space and Irma Boom will design a graphic curtain for the north facade. Jongerius worked with Vitra to design new pieces to furnish the space that compliment the few remaining “survivors”, which include Knoll club chairs and 1952 original Hans Wegner Peacock chairs.

“The space has this very strict rhythm of horizontal and vertical lines,” said Jongerius “and I wanted to soften that,” which she did with a porcelain bead curtain that covers the east façade. “The curtain brings a piece of the Netherlands to the UN, because it’s made from clay dug from the Dutch manufacturer’s site.” The UN’s strict security regulations meant that there could be no screens or vertical obstructions in the room so that the entire space could be seen on entering – the curtain shields the room from passing helicopters and makes it feel private while still maintaining an open aspect, which adhered to the guidelines.

The UN headquarters in New York was built in 1952, and amounts to the collaborative efforts of a team of 11 leading architects. Le Corbusier’s staunch 39-storey glazed tower and Oscar Niemeyer’s low, curving Assembly building are some of the highlights. If you’re interested in finding out more about these two architects who helped shape the original architectural design of the UN HQ, check out the Le Corbusier Le Grand book The Curves of Time on Oscar Niemeyer. For more information on the background of the woman spearheading the renovations, our Hella Jongerius book Misfits explores the work of the Dutch designer.


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