USA: In 1950, when Danish architect Finn Juhl was commissioned to design a council chamber in the conference building of the United Nations Headquarters Complex in New York, few had expected it to become an internationally recognised design landmark.
However, throughout its years of use, the council chamber began to lose its touch. Juhl’s design was aging through time and with it the chamber’s initial spark began to deteriorate over the decades.
With the chamber still in use for sizable meetings, a modernisation of the conference room became essential. In 2007, the UN decided on a total renovation and through the Danish Arts Foundation, a design competition for new furniture was announced in 2011.
Though the UN had led the renovation project for the walls, carpet and ceiling, leading Danish designers Kasper Salto and Thomas Sigsgaard created an unbeatable furniture design that not only honoured Juhl’s spirit but revitalised the chamber.
Kasper Salto, partner at Salto & Sigsgaard said: “We thought, ‘what would Finn Juhl have done today if he had our knowledge about new materials and techniques?’ In the room there are plenty of fine details everywhere. So we agreed not to add a lot of new elements, and to keep the new coming elements as few as possible.
“We wanted to maintain the good feeling that Juhl created for the chamber, thanks to the way
he worked and refined all its surfaces. Walls are covered with thin rails of wood, the floor is done with a [patterned] carpet, and the ceiling, which is one of the [most] remarkable elements he created in the room … is instrumental for good acoustics.”
The concept of maintaining Juhl’s original approach to the space is one of the main underpinnings behind Salto & Sigsgaard’s new designs. By following his philosophy that centred on simple but functional solutions, the design team was able to create a number of new pieces, like the Secretary Chairs and the delegate tables.
Made from 3D veneer, the Secretary Chair consists of two shells that are assembled by steel parts. Its curvaceous shape boasts a smooth and flexible appearance, resulting in a perfect match for Salto & Sigsgaard’s delegate tables.
Moulded from one large sheet of plywood, the delegate table stands upward from the floor and softly bends into a table top. In addition to the wooden furniture, the gentle yet playful colours are inviting and make for a warm and cosy ambiance.
Salto explained: “In 1952, Finn Juhl did the colouring in a very convincing and beautiful way; the ceiling is painted in a light blue and the coloured boxes for lighting and air intake are hanging [below the ceiling] in different colours, like red, yellow and blue … For us, it was important not to come with new colours, but try to support Juhl’s original thoughts.”
By mixing modern technology with Juhl’s philosophy and approach, the Danish designers were able to create an organic and dynamic design, adding a contempory touch to an iconic space.