UN North Delegates' Lounge

In 1948, a team of international designers convened in New York to hash out a plan for the new UN Headquarters at the edge of the East River.

UN North Delegates' Lounge

More than 60 years later, a similarly high-minded group of designers embarked on a collaborative project to redesign the interiors of the complex's North Delegates' Lounge. The big difference? It was an all-Holland all-star team, resulting a distinctly Dutch project.

UN North Delegates' Lounge

The space is a key UN venue, where policymakers and representatives go to relax and chat between council sessions. (The project was funded by the Dutch state as a gift to the UN.)

UN North Delegates' Lounge

The team consisted of designer Hella Longerius, architect Rem Koolhaas and OMA, graphic designer Irma Boom, artist Gabriel Lester, and theorist Louise Schouwenberg.

UN North Delegates' Lounge

Jongerius's contributions are the most striking, including a design for the east facade curtain that's made of 30,000 porcelain beads.

UN North Delegates' Lounge

The designer also renovated the carpeting of the space, introduced new furniture designs, and even came up with a couple of her own.

UN North Delegates' Lounge

Her UN Lounge Chair is a casual take on a club chair, a soft, U-shaped profile propped up on rollers.

UN North Delegates' Lounge

A row of back-to-back Sphere Tables line the southern wall. They're small computer desks, partially enclosed by a frosted bubble.

UN North Delegates' Lounge

For her part, Irma Boom devised a transparent curtain to cover the room's expansive north facade. Dubbed the Knots&Grid curtain--a complement to Jongerius's Knots&Beads design--it contains a non-transparent sheath that can be extended in times of event.

UN North Delegates' Lounge

Gabriel Lester rearranged the lounge's original artworks, including the very green Great Wall tapestry, which hangs directly above Jongerius's Sphere Tables.

UN North Delegates' Lounge

Koolhaas and Co. removed a mezzanine that was not part of the original design and which marred views of the river. The architects also devised designs for the desk counter and lounge bar. Rounding out the team, Louise Schouwenberg formulated the project texts.

Co.Design

An All-Star Delegation Of Dutch Designers Revamp The UN Lounge

UN HQ welcomed a general assembly of designers, including Hella Jongerius and Rem Koolhaas, to a storied space.

The design story of the UN Headquarters in NY is well known. A cadre of international architects, including Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Matthew Nowiki, came together in 1948 under the direction of American pragmatic Wallace K. Harrison to help shape a new "Workshop for Peace" at the edge of the East River. The global collaboration of the building itself was meant to anticipate the diplomatic processes—and in some cases, fiery dramas—that would unfold at the future UN complex.

More than 60 years later, a new team of designers contributed their talent to the landmark building and icon of International Style—though this time around, the stakes were admittedly lower (and the collaborators all Dutch). Consisting of designers, architects, and luminaries, the group was tasked with updating the North Delegates’ Lounge as a new kind of meeting place for policymakers. The project was funded by the Dutch state as a gift to the UN.

"We all had our own egos and characters, but during the meetings and talks on the design, we all had the same goal," Hella Jongerius, principal of her eponymous studio tells Co.Design. Jongerius assumed the lion's share of the work. She was responsible for the new furnishings, upholstery, and the carpeting, as well as keeping and rearranging some of the original pieces and curating a mix of contemporary Dutch and international designs for the space.

The contributions of the remaining members of the team were integral to the project, if more subtle and difficult to detect. Rem Koolhaas and OMA removed a mezzanine that was fixed to the east facade of the lounge in 1979—and which had obscured the view to the river. The architects also contributed the lounge bar and information desk, both made of black resin that complements Jongerius’s lively wares, including winking furniture designs that reinterpret the high, jet-age glamour of the early '60s.

Visual artist Gabriel Lester relocated original artworks, including a vibrant tapestry of the Great Wall. Graphic designer Irma Boom developed a gridded curtain that drapes the room’s extensive northern facade. The theorist Louise Schouwenberg lent texts to the project brief and helped formulate the final design concept.

Everything ties together as a satisfying whole, and the idea of the gesamkunstwerk, Jongerius says, was at the forefront of the team’s design goals, as was displaying a distinctly Dutch identity in a global context. "We wanted to show the world what the Dutch are good in," Jongerius says about her country's gifts for "architecture, design, and art."

Her UN Lounge Chairs, an eccentric take on the club chair with front legs propped up on chunky plastic wheels, come in muted blue pigment and are sprinkled throughout the room. A fleet of Sphere Tables, small desks partially encased in frosted bubble shells, line the southern wall. Jongerius also remixed pieces of furniture, like the Polder sofa, with a duo-tone fabric scheme she developed with Vitra, based on archival material from Dutch textile manufacturer De Ploeg. The east facade, a far smaller portal than the northern one, but with views to FDR Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, is cloaked with a permeable curtain with a look of fine fishnet, made of 30,000 porcelain beads from Dutch clay.

As finished, the lounge is a winning effort, even if it's ultimately just a footnote in the building's storied chronology. That's fine with the designers, who from the get-go had worked toward what Jongerius calls a "careful editing of history."

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