Rem Koolhaas has been thinking about the United Nations since his early Delirious New York days. Earlier this century, he even made a bid to design a new Secretariat. While that project didn’t pan out, the Dutch architect is joining a team of countrymen and women to “reconceive” the North Delegates Lounge in the Conference Building. In addition to OMA, the team will include designer Hella Jongerius, graphic designer Irma Boom, artist Gabriel Lester, and “theorist Louise Schouwenberg.”
Occupied since 1952, the original space is sandwiched between the Secretariat and General Assembly; it is a magisterial double-height room hundreds of feet long with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the East River. A swank bar at one end was replaced in 1978 with a mezzanine and smaller bar that will be removed to take advantage, once again, of the room’s corner views.
Keenly aware of the complex’s complex identity and Le Corbusier’s grab for design credit, Koolhaas who once wrote that the U.N. was a building that “an American could never have thought and a European could never have built” has described the team’s approach as the “preservation of change.” The renovation will include handmade bead curtains, new carpets, a combination of original Knoll club and Eames lounge chairs with new furnishings, and a new installation for artworks donated by member states. The fate of a 300-foot tapestry of the Great Wall of China (50,000 yards of wool; 600 pounds) that once hung in the lounge and was donated during the ping-pong détente of the 70s was not mentioned in the press release. The project sponsored by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is scheduled for completion in 2012.
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