Squaring the circle

The round Room XIX has seating for 800 and is United Nations’ biggest and most technically advanced conference room at its European headquarters. Photos: Studio Peia / Giovanna Silva

The UN’s (United Nations) European headquarters are based in Geneva’s Ariana Park and look out on the French Alps and Lake Geneva. Just as impressive as the view is the Palace of Nations, built there in late neoclassical style between 1929 and 1936. Following several developments over the years, the building has grown to a length of a good half a kilometre. Over 8,000 meetings in a total of 32 conference rooms take place here every year. Some areas are open to the public, so with around 100,000 visitors annually, the palace is one of the most popular tourist destinations on Lake Geneva.

The circular Room XIX is the palace’s new interior design highlight. UN member state Qatar funded the redesign of the biggest conference room, which is around 4,000 square metres in size and has seating for 800 people. The room was renamed the Hall of Qatar in keeping with the tradition of naming spaces after the party that financed them.

Italian architectural studio PEIA Associati was commissioned to come up with a concept for the interior and its design suggests subtle references to the culture and landscape of Qatar. The ceilings and walls are lined with panels made of African timber and disrupt the strictly circular symmetry of the hall. The suspended wood ceiling is structured into triangular sections with a wavy surface to reflect the sand dunes that dominate this desert nation’s scenery. The walls are covered in folded, rectangular strips, which suggest the association with water, an allusion to the peninsula of Qatar on the Red Sea.

Visualisation of Room XIX. Image: PEIA Associati, Milan

In order to echo the ideals of the United Nations – the equality and inclusion of all member states – in design terms too, the architects created a circular, concentric and radial pattern for the interior design. A standard desk module was designed, which can be combined separately with other items of furniture and forms semi-circular rows of desks in the hall. It’s a configuration, which figuratively speaking, also unites all nations to become one. The redesign of the plenary chairs, originally created by Charlotte Perriand, pays tribute to the history of major designers like Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer who were commissioned by the UN. The wooden wall and ceiling panels were fitted to provide ideal acoustics and facilitate understanding between nations.

In the booths, interpreters benefit from the exceptional comfort and dynamic nature of the IN free-to-move task chair (design: wiege) by Wilkhahn. Photos: Studio Peia / Giovanna Silva

Whether it’s a case of the lighting, the ultra-high-resolution LED wall, 400 audio and video monitors, camera and sound technology, the hall is a class act. What’s more, it’s the first in the world to be equipped with 10 simultaneous interpreting booths, one of which is for sign language interpreters. In this case, the architects chose Wilkhahn’s IN free-to-move task chair (design: wiege). The ergonomic task chair encourages three-dimensional movement while people are sitting, stimulates their bodies, therefore boosting their ability to concentrate, even during long meetings.

All-rounder Aline (design: Andreas Störiko) and Contas conference tables that nestle into one another (design wiege, Fritz Frenkler, Anette Ponholzer) by Wilkhahn, allow conference rooms to be reconfigured for talks, seminars or training sessions in no time. Photos: Studio Peia

Other conference rooms, which are scheduled for small meetings and negotiations, are deliberately more understated in terms of their colours and designs. The stylish and stackable Aline all-rounder and its swivel-mounted siblings on star bases are ideal choices in settings like those (design: Andreas Störiko). Due to its minimalist design, the range blends in perfectly with the light-flooded spaces. In conjunction with the foldable Contas conference tables, which nestle compactly into one another, (design wiege, Fritz Frenkler, Anette Ponholzer), they offer superior flexibility so that the conference spaces can be reconfigured for presentations, seminars and training sessions with different numbers of attendees in no time.

The task chairs come in a distinctive, classy design with a high level of functionality and ergonomic comfort and are some of the best office chairs we have ever tested. The dynamic tables and stackable chairs stand apart for their clear designs and highly appealing materials, fabrics and colours.

PEIA Associati architectural studio, Milan, Italy

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