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. 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.
An exhausted Palais
Today, the extensive and diverse use, coupled with the age of the buildings, presents UNOG with a range of urgent maintenance challenges to the upkeep of the Palais des Nations. While superficially the main building and its annexes appear structurally sound, they are slowly but surely losing their functionality..
The current state of the building undermines the ability of UNOG to service Member States and other users in an adequate, safe and cost-effective manner. While the building has been maintained well with the resources available, it is clear that ad hoc solutions, within the current budgetary allocations, are not sustainable in the longer term given the scale of the challenges. The scope and complexity of the structural problems necessitate a complete renovation and refurbishment. Such an initial investment would pay long-term dividends in savings on maintenance and running costs, and it is essential to safeguarding the heritage of the Palais des Nations.
The concrete has cracked in a large number of places and there is significant damage to the roof. There is also damage to the floor areas and to internal walls in serveral places due to strucutral movements. The storage conditions for the UNOG Library and archive materials, which includes the archives of the League of Nations, do not conform to international standards.
Against this background, the Director-General has made the development of a Strategic Heritage Plan for the Palais des Nations a key priority and is working closely with Member States and relevant parts of the Secretariat in this regard. A group of Member States has stepped forward, as a Group of Friends of the Palais des Nations, to provide guidance and support for a Strategic Heritage Plan. The Group is open to all interested Member States. The support of the entire membership of the Organization is critical.
UNOG's Director-General speech during the opening of the exhibition, 8 September 2009
Image Gallery of the opening of the exhibition "Building for Peace", 8 September 2009
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