Playroom As Diplomats’ Lounge — Dutch Designers Create UN Playpen… AKA North Delegates’ Lounge

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Last week, as delegates descended upon the United Nations for the 68th General Assembly, they encountered a brand-new lounge area. The renovation is an official gift from the Netherlands to the UN and was masterminded by two of the most notable Dutch designers today— architect Rem Koolhaas and product/furnishings designer Hella Jongerius.

It’s been more than sixty years since the New York City-based United Nations headquarters was completed, the building itself conceived by a supergroup of international architects including Swiss architect/designer Le Corbusier, Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, and NYC architect Wallace Harrison. This new revamp by the contemporary Dutch team is an overhaul of the original, sophisticated, and mature North Delegates’ Lounge.

New Design:

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Original Design:

Safari 14

New Design:

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Original Design:

Safari 15

While one might not consider the North Delegates’ Lounge in the United Nations buildings as a cozy, informal spot to hang out, the designer and architect have turned the diplomat’s meeting place into just that… for my tastes, too much so. The team removed a mezzanine that previously obscured East River views, and then renovated the interior of the room with a dramatically informal feeling in mind.

Outfitted in blue, green and purple upholstered chairs and couches (designed by Jongerius) and orange carpeting, the space feels less like ground for tense political discourse among policymakers, and more like an incredibly stylish rec room… or what I might more comfortably accept as a lounge/playpen for twenty-something Google tech heads with Starbucks mocha latte in hand. While a small selection of the original 1960s art remains, Jongerius added a curtain made from hand-knotted yarn and 30,000 porcelain beads.

Though I have some design objects from Hella Jongerius, I’m not a fan of her work here. Far too casual for the seriousness of the purpose at the UN. I thought maybe I was one of only a few who felt this way…until I read comments on various design and architectural sites.

Here are just a few comments that convey the general sentiment:

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Come on, I LOL’d when I first saw this pic because I thought that this was what it looked like Pre-Reno. I though wow poor underfunded UN has a sad hodgepodge of furniture from over the last 60 years. How embarrassing for the organization that is supposed to be keeping the world united.

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I have to admit, I looked at the pictures and kept scrolling because I thought everything I saw was the “before” picture of the lounge.

On a slightly-related note, it almost looks like the UN just went through an IKEA catalog (yes, I know IKEA is Sweden, and these designers are Dutch). Except that there isn’t a meatball in sight.

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I was going to post similar and then was like “this is too obvious, someone’s already got it..” and BAM there you were. I was thinking it looked like the poor ambassadors were to be stuck in an Ikea kids’ playroom.

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Perhaps, when you get up close and touch them, those chairs are covered in and made out of cashmere and aged mahogany. If not, that place now looks like sitting area of my local roller-rink.

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This looks like a kindergarden room.

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An evolution has occurred around the globe that is removing the boundaries between the roles we play and worlds we inhabit. Not long ago — and no, I’m not that old, just fifty — one knew when they were at work or play, and behaviors and styles were appropriate for the venue. Businesspersons like me wore suits to work and carried briefcases; women wore skirted and panted outfits with carry bags. These were our uniforms that set us in the right mindset for the tasks at hand. Mine was the last division in my Fortune 500 company that instituted “casual days,” as I acquiesced to the larger social movement. After I left the firm, everyday was a wear-what-you-want day.

We wore leisure clothes on our “own” time, and we knew it was time to relax. We knew when to behave more seriously and when to “let our hair down.” In other words, we put away childish things at a certain point of matriculation and grew up and stepped up. Today, there is no growing up; it’s jeans and tea shirts at the office while carrying backpacks, what I make fun of as “book bags” — probably with “SpongeBob SquarePants” underwear, too. We dress the same now, whether at work or at home, whether out on a business dinner or going out for a meal with a spouse on the weekend. We no longer mature from the ways of a student into a more sophisticated adult. Now, we are always on and, ironically, always off. And now, so too for the UN…


One response to “Playroom As Diplomats’ Lounge — Dutch Designers Create UN Playpen… AKA North Delegates’ Lounge

  • John

    I see everyone’s pretty much in agreement except I have bought some nice things at ikea & this looks more like dorm room furniture from walmart! Do those couches have a frame? or are they fabric wrapped foam pads that flip open and flat to make a bed on your dormroom floor for drunken friends?

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