Going Dutch

Hella Jongerius, Rem Koolhaas, and Irma Boom redesign the Delegates’ Lounge at the renovated United Nations building in New York City.

(page 6 of 6)

Once the team was selected, the focus shifted. For the Dutch government, the goal was to show off Dutch design; for the U.N., the goals were practicality and safety.
Assistant Secretary-General for the Capital Master Plan Michael Adlerstein (the New York architect responsible for the renovation of the complex) and his experts were uncompromising on the security front. “You’d show them a design, and they’d say, ‘Well, because of what happened in Mogadishu…’” recalls Schouwenberg. Indeed, the drape with the porcelain beads—one of the key features of the refurbished room—was almost nixed because officials imagined each of the beads becoming a projectile in the case of a bombing. (It was eventually permitted, so long as it was made to be removable.)

Working with Dutch textile company De Ploeg, Jongerius designed a special multitone fabric  (upper right) in various shades of blue and green. 

Courtesy Jongeriuslab

Then there were budget constraints. The Dutch government paid its $3.35 million to the U.N. The money, Jongerius says, bought much less from contractors chosen by Adlerstein’s office than the team had projected. Koolhaas was allowed to remove the east mezzanine. But he had hoped to build another mezzanine near the entrance to the room (creating a kind of compression and release as guests arrived under the lower ceiling). Another unrealized Koolhaas plan involved hanging the four huge artworks off a one-meter-deep balcony, adding a bit of spatial layering to the room.

For Jongerius, the project will bring future benefits. Her bubble desk—formally named the Sphere table—is already being sold by Vitra. And her wheeled chair will be introduced by the company in Milan next spring, though without its most prominent feature, the wheels, and without its current name, the U.N. Lounge Chair (the international body guards its trademarks). Jongerius isn’t happy about the loss of the wheels, but she isn’t complaining. “I don’t see it as a compromise,” she says. “I see it as using my creativity to find solutions. I’m flexible.” Indeed, as she walked into the room for the dedication party—knowing her furniture had been rearranged for the event by U.N. functionaries without her input—she said she wasn’t afraid of what she’d find.  “However they did it,” she said, “I’ll be happy.”

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