UNITED NATIONS LOUNGE : LET’S MAKE A DEAL

 

Many a deal is made over a good glass of wine. So every office should have a bar. Or a lounge, like at the United Nations in New York. And the North Delegates’ Lounge has been renovated to make it an even more pleasant place to hang out. And to close that important deal!

The renovation was commissioned to a Dutch team of ringing names: Hella jongerius, Rem Koolhaas and Irma Boom.

The simple rectangular space has been divided in three sections. The first is a group of low sofas and lounge chairs. The second section is situated at the far end of the hall and is composed of a bar and vivid green tables and white chairs. The last section is a row of work stations against a metal wall.

Hella Jongerius has introduced her already iconic Polder sofas, inspired by the topography of her home country Holland. She has especially designed the UN Chair for the occasion. She also signs for the window covering made of hundreds of clay beads and the “bubble desk” work stations. But Jongerius has also, much to her credit, included design pieces that bear other names, like a chair by Rietveld and the Wegner Peacock Chair.

Irma Boom created the shade on the inclined north window. It’s a grid-like curtain that refers to the window lines on New York’s modern skyscrapers.

Rem Koolhaas’ intervention is limited to the elimination of a mezzanine and the introduction of a white resin information desk at the entrance.

For any client, this team of stellar designers is a dream combination. Then why does this new Delegates’ Lounge not provoke a reaction of delighted surprise?

There’s a slightly uncomfortable imbalance between cosiness and emptiness. On entering the hall, that’s exactly what you see: a big hall. There’s nothing wrong with a big hall. But the confusion starts when you don’t know if it’s empty or cluttered.

It’s clear that Hella Jongerius has tried to overcome the sensation of cold emptiness. After all, a lounge should offer some welcoming cosiness. Therefore the designer has used her very laid-back Polder sofas. Therefore she has broken up the space in different areas. Therefore she has used different types of seating. A variety of furniture and furnishings are to break the feel of an overly rectangular and empty room.

But still the room looks as flat as Holland. And even Jongerius must have felt this too. In her original design she also planned on having the Jurgen Bey Ear Chair. It’s a chair that has a high head rest and wide “ears”, enveloping the person that uses it. It offers some acoustic and visual seclusion from the environment, ideal for some welcome cocooning in an otherwise open hall. But for security reasons – this is the UN, remember – the chair was scratched from the design scheme: it was too high and blocked the overall view of the lounge…

Even Rem Koolhaas must have detected the same problem with the openness of this huge room. At the far end of the lounge, he tore down a mezzanine in order to open up the view towards the East River. A great move. At the same time he wanted to add a mezzanine at the entrance of the lounge, in this way lowering the entrance way and separating the lounge a little bit more from the hallways. It surely would have defined and confined the lounge a lot more. But the budget has decided otherwise.

Koolhaas also wanted to hang the oversized artwork (UN gifts) from protruding slabs. This would have broken up the box-like room a little bit more. His plan did not see the light, for the same reason mentioned above.

At one point, even the most striking feature of the whole design was threatened. The clay beads of the knotted curtain were described as possible hazardous projectiles in case of a (bomb) explosion. Fortunately the beads slipped through the restrictive net and could stay.

It’s obvious that an institution like the United Nations has to impose strict regulations and safety considerations on itself. But it’s also sad that good design has to suffer from it. As the evening was unfurling, the Lounge got packed with people enjoying an after-work drink. At least they don’t seem to be bothered by the restrictions. Nor the plastic wine cups.

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