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Construction of the Palais des Nations

The League of Nations (LON) was founded after the First World War “to develop cooperation among nations and to guarantee them peace and security”. The establishment of the League was intended to mark a fundamental shift in international relations, with a focus on peaceful resolution of conflicts and institutionalized collaboration. Geneva was chosen as the League’s headquarters in recognition of the city’s particular tradition of international diplomacy and negotiation.

The League of Nations Secretariat was initially housed at Palais Wilson, while a new permanent headquarters was to be constructed on land donated by the City of Geneva. The design and layout of the building were to reflect the high hopes for a lasting new world order that the League embodied.

An international architectural competition was opened in 1926 with the following intention:

    "The Palais, whose construction is the object of the competition, is intended to house all the organs of the League of Nations in Geneva. It should be designed in such a way as to allow these organs to work, to preside and to hold discussions, independently and easily in the calm atmosphere which should prevail when dealing with problems of an international dimension."

Three hundred and seventy-seven projects were submitted, but the jury of architects was unable to reach a final decision. The League then commissioned the five architects behind the favourite proposals to work together on a joint project. Carlo Broggi of Italy, Julien Flegenheimer of Switzerland, Camille Lefèvre and Henri-Paul Nénot of France, and Joseph Vago of Hungary developed the plan that eventually became the basis for the original parts of the Palais des Nations. The foundation stone was laid on 7 September 1929. Beneath the stone lies a casket containing a list of the League of Nations Member States, a copy of the Covenant of the League and specimen coins of all the countries represented at its Tenth Assembly.

    The Palais des Nations has had two extensions added to it:
    • In 1950-1952, when three floors were added to the K building and the D building was built, inter alia, to accommodate temporarily the staff of the World Health Organization, pending the construction of their headquarters on Avenue Appia;

    • In 1968-1973, with the construction of the E building, nowadays still commonly referred to as the ‘New Building´. This building, designed by a team of five architects led by Eugène Beaudoin (France), was meant to host the headquarters of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and to meet the growing need for conference facilities.

    Today, the overall complex is 600 metres long, and hosts 34 conference rooms and 2,800 offices, making it the second largest United Nations centre after the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

    The Palais des Nations is one of the largest diplomatic conference centres in the world. Some 9,000 meetings are organized every year, attracting around 28,000 delegates per year. Most conference rooms date back to the original construction of the Palais des Nations and were decorated thanks to the generous gifts of Member States. Pictures and descriptions of the rooms are readily available under the heading Conferences and other Events.

    Useful links

    Image Gallery of the opening of the exhibition "Building for Peace", 8 September 2009

    UNOG's Director-General speech during the opening of the exhibition, 8 September 2009