All images: OMA
For nearly 5 years, 14 international architects were charged with building the world, in a sense, when they were gathered together to design the U.N. headquarters in New York City. Led by American architect and pragmatist Wallace K. Harrison, the team could count among its members such luminaries as Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer, who argued endlessly over the massing and planning of the complex. The so-called "workshop for peace" was anything but, with the architects' constant squabbling, calls of dissent, and "disfiguring" of plans, prompting Harrison to cast Le Corbusier, the loudest and most grumbling of the bunch, in the role of the egomaniacal villain--a measure which most of the team found easy to swallow. Eventually, though, compromises were made, visionaries ignored, and the managerial triumphed. So post-war bureaucracy was born.
Ignoring these more off-putting aspects of the historic collaboration, OMA is hoping to continue the idealistic and symbolic tradition of such enterprises. The firm has been chosen to redesign the U.N. North Delegates' Lounge, with Koolhaas and co. partnering with an all Dutch team oncluding designer Hella Jongerius, graphic designer Irma Boom, artist Gabriel Lester and theorist Louise Schouwenberg to form an interdisciplinary team echoing the design council of yore. The project, which is sponsored by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will see the paradoxical restoration and change (or in ambiguous Koolhaasian terms, "preservation of change") of the space, with, among other alterations, the removing of the lounge's mezzanine, installed in 1978, to take advantage of views to the East River.
As the entire U.N. complex enters its third year of renovations--which, according to some estimations, is approaching $3 billion--work on the lounge will begin, with a completion date at some point in 2012. Aside from the removal of the mezzanine, which will restore the double-height glazed wall at the east end of the room, material details, which Jongerius says was lacking in the original space, figure prominantly in the group's design: “The space was devoid of personality because it lacked attention for material detailing. Apart from monumental gestures, such as removing the mezzanine and re-positioning the artworks, we needed to address the physical experience of the space.”Accordingly, artworks will be re-positioned and outfitted with new aluminum frames; original furniture, such as the Knoll club and Eames lounge chairs, will be refurbished; and carpeting will be replaced with a duotone weave of dark brown and grey. New furniture pieces, the Bubble Desk and the RE-Lounge Chair, by Jongerius will be placed throughout, while the designer's knotted-and-beaded curtains will be mounted over the glazed wall.
The North Delegates' Lounge in 1952, photo: UN
Left: The lounge mezzanine added in 1978; Right: The lounge in its original condition, 1952. Photos: UN