Circular design: the new Conference Room XIX at United Nations of Geneva

Designer Peia Associati
Surfaces Casalgrande Padana
Project Room XIX at United Nations of Geneva
Year 2019
Location Geneva, Switzerland
Typology Auditorium
Materials Porcelain tile
Photo Giovanna Silva / Peia Associati

The United Nations (UN) Organisation, headquartered in New York and currently comprising almost all the world’s countries, with 193 members (each of which contributes to the organisation in proportion to its wealth), was established by 51 countries after the Second World War. Aimed at organising and promoting peace and collaboration among peoples, it began working on 1 January 1946 following the entry into force of the United Nations Charter, proposing ways in which public institutions can work towards economic and social justice, development, guaranteeing human rights and maintaining peace and international security. The UN is the largest multilateral institution operating for general political purposes.

After the glass palace in New York, the UN offices in Geneva house the largest and most important international operations centre of the United Nations, and together with the offices in Vienna and Nairobi make up the network of central offices of the UN. The Organisation’s main headquarters in Europe, it is home, amongst others, to the UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

A generous donation from Qatar allowed for a thorough renewal of Room XIX of the United Nations in Geneva. Measuring 4000 square metres, and with a capacity of 800 and 320 desks for the delegates of the nations, it is the largest hall used for plenary assemblies. It was designed by the PEIA studio, whose close collaboration and research conducted with Casalgrande Padana over the years has offered the possibility to experiment, create and innovate, using porcelain stoneware tiles to come up with new patterns, visual effects and cutting and laying solutions with explicit, consistent references to the main elements of the hall and the UN building, helping to bring a unique style to this project. The large-size porcelain stoneware tiles, in the colour Marte Thassos, laid with minimal-width joints, create the illusion of a continuous surface, while the wall coverings in the colour Travertino are inspired by those featured in the historic architectures of the UN in Geneva, reminiscent of bas-reliefs and archaeological finds. Some of the floors are tiled in the colours Pietra del Cardoso and Zinco Titano, alternating shiny and matte finishes, while others feature mosaics with random colour variations mimicking the magnificent triangular wooden “Dune” pattern of the Hall’s imposing vault.

This contemporary take on the elaborate geometries and patterns typical of Arab culture features symbolic geometric elements: the triangular and circular matrices are found in the mashrabiya patterns that are part of the iconography and specific identity of Qatar, and at the same time are a clear symbolic reference to dialogue; the use of porcelain stoneware tiles cut into triangles, the size - and sometimes the absence - of joints on the large tiles to create a stone effect and the walls covered in mirrors come together to create continuous surface effects in harmony with the elegant material allure of the wood, bronze and white surfaces.

The architectural design of Room XIX, with its circular concentric and radial pattern exemplifying the concept of equality, reflects the ideals the United Nations is founded on: instead of lots of desks with different rows, a single module has been designed that can be combined with the others, with a view to promoting the individuality and identity of the nations, and at the same time expressing the strength of the union as a single entity focused on resolving the world’s problems together. The dune (the vaulted ceiling) and the sky (the nations) are conceptually inverted, in an upside-down position: in the collective imagination, the dune represents a fascinating, unique natural phenomenon, in which the shapes change and adapt according to the movement of the wind, creating a series of meandering, shifting outlines on a desert landscape; a celebration of the dune means a celebration of evolution, history, traditions and culture, and at the same time, it represents a challenge to guide the changes necessary to improve our future and preserve its environment.

Different lighting scenarios, mimicking sunrise and sunset, are used in Room XIX, also known as the Hall of Qatar, in order to guarantee maximum comfort for United Nations delegates during the long meeting sessions. This is made possible thanks to the installation of an innovative circadian lighting system that highlights the cultural irregularity of the ceiling. In addition, to provide a further comfortable source of light, create a pleasant view, and also as a reminder of the environmental emergences the planet faces, an automatic, motorised opening system has been introduced, offering a view over the Park, Lake Geneva and out towards the magnificent Mont Blanc massif. The hall is also equipped with the most advanced technology, including high-definition motorised cameras and a sophisticated new transmission system, 10 simultaneous interpreting booths, a booth for sign language interpreters, 400 high-definition audio and video monitors boosted with a cutting-edge light system and excellent acoustic performance aided by a parametric software.

As for the Kempinski Residences & Suites of the Kempinski Tower in Doha and theWestin Resort Miriandhoo in the Maldives, attention to detail and the determination to rework and adapt materials to the pragmatic, inventive approach of the project designer, while maintaining quality standards, were the reasons that persuaded the architect Giampiero Peia to also choose Casalgrande Padana for the design of such a symbolic place, in which past, present and future intertwine to form a continuous, supranational flow, reminding us of the emergencies we have to face, by audaciously rising to the challenge of guaranteeing the salvation of the planet and real progress for its peoples.