In Renovated UN Chamber, Salto & Sigsgaard’s Council Chairs Take Center Stage

The Trusteeship Council Chamber at the United Nations, originally designed by Danish architect Finn Juhl in 1952, reopened last month after a three-year renovation.

“We all moan about the United Nations, but there was no supranational body, no international forum [in 1914],” says Harold Evans in this week’s New York Times Book Review Podcast, discussing the DIY state of diplomacy at the dawn of the First World War. “You were reliant on these errant telegrams, these errant messages, these ambassadors in their frock coats carrying these ambiguous messages. Oh, crikey! What a thing worth studying.” The frock coat-free body has just had an update of its own, with the reopening of the Trusteeship Council Chamber at the UN headquarters in New York. Originally designed by Finn Juhl in 1952, the chamber has undergone a multi-million-dollar renovation–a collaborative effort by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Danish Ministry of Culture, Realdania, and the UN.

The floor and wall panels have been restored, but this was basically a gut reno: new ventilation, piping, wiring, and carpeting as well as a fresh floor that recreates the original, including the sunken section in the middle of the horseshoe configuration. And then there’s the furniture: a modified version of Juhl’s FJ51 chair is joined by pieces designed by Kasper Salto and Thomas Sigsgaard. The Copenhagen-based designer-architect duo won a 2011 design competition for new tables for the delegates and a new table and chairs for the secretariat. “Our motto has been letting the furniture add to the existing room by having them consist of as few elements and parts as possible,” say Salto and Sigsgaard, who were on hand last month for the opening ceremony. “Respecting the room and the consequent use of wood in the room.” Their Council chair (pictured) is an elegant two-part shell of molded Reholz 3D veneer in oak, upholstered in light-colored leather. Juhl’s Chieftain chair was a primary inspiration.

The world got a sneak preview of the Council chair at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair, where it was presented by the Danish furniture company Onecollection. Now it’s onto the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, which opens Saturday at the Javits Center (find Onecollection at booth 1411). The Council chair is being produced for the global market in oak or walnut, with leather or fabric. “We feel that we have created something beautiful and groundbreaking in tandem with the designers,” says Hans Henrik Sørensen, director of Onecollection. “We hope this can inject new interest into Danish design from an international perspective.” Want more UN HQ renovation news? Learn about the architectural, artistic, and political history of the Arnstein Arneberg-designed UN Security Council Chamber–also fresh from a multi-year makeover–at a panel discussion this evening at New York’s Center for Architecture. Be sure to leave your frock coat at home.

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