Designing for the Workplace: UNO/WHO Headquarters Extension Competition

by Stanley Collyer

bbk who garten 01 s25
Winning entry by Berrel Berrel Kräutler AG (image courtesy BBK)

For all its perceived shortcomings, the United Nations Organization (UNO) can make a good case for its approach to the design of its facilities located in Geneva, Switzerland. Leading up to the most recent competition for the Headquarters Extension of the WHO offices, it staged three successful competitions: • For the 1966 World Health Organization (WHO) Headquarters building, won by Swiss architect, Jean Tschumi; • For the 2000 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) building, won by the German firm, Behnisch Architekten; • For the 2006 WHO/UNAIDS building, won by the Austrian firm, Baumschlager & Eberle As the principal anchor of the WHO headquarters complex, the 1966 building, now over a half century old, has not only seen the deterioration of its basic mechanical systems and programmatic changes, but has not kept pace with the needs generated by the world’s health crisis. This necessitated the on-site construction of seven temporary or precast structures, none of which were the result of any architectural guidelines or urban planning and did not conform to present code standards. Studies undertaken by the client indicated that future requirements of the organization would be best served by eliminating the seven temporary/precast structures and undertaking the construction of a brand new building to facilitate the incorporation of the various programs in closer proximity, while completely retrofitting the 1966 structure. According to the study, “the analysis showed that it would be possible to reduce the energy consumption of the HQ site in Geneva of 8.25 Kwh/year to potentially 3.37 Kwh/year by investing more in high quality long-term energy efficient solutions, which would consequently result in potentially important cost savings in the HQ operating budget over the next 40-year lifecycle.” The competition brief outlined seven requirements, which had to be included in the design of the new building: • The new building is to accommodate a minimum of 770 work places (administration, office spaces); • Reception, exhibition and entertaining spaces; • Conference space (with a capacity for 500 to 600 people, divisible into four rooms, which could be used simultaneously); • “SHOC room” area • Underground garage with 500-700 parking spaces • Archives and technical services The success of this concept was dependent on phasing, which foresaw more of the programs moved to the present Main Building during demolition and construction of the new building. With the completion of the new building, programs could be moved into that structure, while the Main Building was undergoing renovation. The Competition The design competition for the new building was run according to Swiss competition rules, with anonymity being maintained during both the first and second stages. An international jury was impaneled, and the jury had to sign off on the competition brief before the competition launch. According to the competition brief, “The Jury shall approve the regulations, specifications and program of the competition, and shall answer queries from the candidates. It shall assess the competition proposals, decide on their ranking, and award the prizes and any awards. It shall produce a report on its final decision and issue recommendations for further action.” The Jury thus signed up for a comprehensive set of obligations, in excess of what is usually required of most juries, and indicating that this competition was not only well conceived, but well financed in light of the time demands required of the panel. The First Stage jury* was composed of: Mr. Dominique Perrault (Chair) Architect, France Members: Dr Mariyam Shakeela: WHO EB, Chair of the Executive Board Dr Margaret Chan: WHO, Director-General Dr Hans Troedsson: WHO, Assistant Director-General –

Mr. Alexandre Fasel: Mission of Switzerland (DFAE), Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Switzerland

Mr. François Reinhard: FIPOI, Director Mrs. Isabel Girault: Canton of Geneva, Director-General, Urban Planning Department Mr. Bernard Tschumi: Architect, USA Mrs. Momoyo Kaijima: Architect, Japan Mr. Diébédo Francis Kéré: Architect, Burkina Faso Mr. Bernard Kouhry: Architect, Lebanon Mr. François de Marignac: Architect, Switzerland Mrs. Julia Zapata: Architect, Switzerland To satisfy entry requirements, architects not only had to establish their credentials as registered architects, but also pay a registration fee in the amount of CHF 250 or 200 €. It can probably be assumed that the size of this registration fee was intended not only to attract firms with considerable resources, but also discourage small firms from participating and keep the numbers of entries at a manageable level. As a result, 327 paid registrations were received, and 253 entries were submitted and deemed complete and presented for preliminary review, excluding two entries, which were identified as identical and submitted twice. From the latter, The shortlisted teams for participation in the Second Stage were to receive CHF12,000 in compensation. The top-ranked teams were also to receive substantial prize money.

Without going through all the criteria for advancement from the First to the Second stage, the following criteria were foremost in the mind of the jury in determining the selection of the thirteen teams to compete in the Second stage:

• Urban planning concept

• Architectural concept

• Functionality and program relationships

• Environmental and budget issues


The thirteen anonymous teams chosen to participate in the Second Stage were: 008 – Rudy Ricciotti, Paris 009 – Benz WIPF Architekten, Zürich 026 – IPAS Architectes SA, Neuchatel, Switzerland 036 – WHITE Arkitekter, Stockholm 047 – RED – Architectes / DAD Architecte, Paris 095 – MADe, Hyderabad, India 109 – ATP Architekten Ingenieure, Innsbruck, Austria 143 – Berrel Berrel Kräutler AG, Zürich 165 – Arkitekt Emil Carstens, Copenhagen 171 – JAJA, Copenhagen 181 – Markus Schietsch Architekten GMBH, Zürich 191 – Renzo Bader Architekten, Zug, Switzerland 203 – Bureau Dan Budik, Zürich

The judging criteria for those teams advancing to the Second Stage emphasized:

• Development of the initial proposal in relation to the individual recommendations of the Jury at the conclusion for the First Stage;
• Integration of the building into the surroundings, clear access, and links;
• Architectural quality of the project;
• Façade and materialization;
• Functionality and conformity with the program;
• Potential for adaptability and flexibility of the project
• Landscaping
• Economic and ecological aspects

The final selection and ranking of the Five Finalists:

1st Place (CHF54,000) – #143 Berrel Berrel Kräutler AG, Zürich
2nd Place (CHF35,000) – #008 Rudy Ricciotti, Paris
3rd Place (CHF30,000) – #047 RED – Architectes / DAD Architecte, Paris
4th Place (CHF25,000) – #095 MADe, Hyderabad, India
5th Place (CHF20,000) – #171 JAJA, Copenhagen

It is notable that several Pritzker Prize winners and other high-profile firms were eliminated before reaching the final round of thirteen. They included notable firms such as Kengo Kuma, Wiel Arets, David Adjaye, Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl, SANAA, Riken Yamamoto, Henning Larsen Heneghan Peng, Massimiliano Fuksas, Gerken Marg & Partners (GMP), and the Finnish firm, ALA, just to name a few. The entries were certainly diverse, as could be seen among the designs of the finalists. They ranged from the high-rise approach—with the winning design matching the height of Tschumi’s Main Building, to Rudy Riccotis’ grade level proposal occupying much of the site—highlighting the Tschumi Main Building—and MADe architects’ low-rise, L-shaped entry, framing a central courtyard. The high-rise winner was an easy choice, leaving a large area of open green space and suggesting a friendly interior workspace, filled with light due to a large atrium, somewhat reminiscent of several Behnisch projects. It should be noted that siting, circulation and sustainability played key roles in the selection of the finalist competitors. Although architectural expression was always in play, the jury obviously was not looking for an iconic image that would compete with the Tschumi building. Emphasis in this competition was very much about the workplace and efficiency of the schemes. In short, this competition was an exercise where rigor was in high demand.  *There were some jurors replaced between the 1st and 2nd stages, due primarily to some personnel changes and scheduling conflicts in the Swiss bureaucracy.  

1st Place – Berrel Berrel Kräutler AG, Zürich bbk who garten 01 s25 bbk who patio 01 s25 bbk who atrium 01 s25 bbk who restaurant 01 s25   0199 wbw who 2stufe-2 0199 wbw who 2stufe-3 0199 wbw who 2stufe-4 0199 wbw who 2stufe-21 Renderings and drawings courtesy Berrel Berrel Kräutler AG (click to enlarge) Through its siting strategy and its massing, the project fits gracefully into the site. The simplicity of the form and its placement on a distinct podium harmonizes perfectly with the podium of the Main Building, thus giving an impression of powerful duality. The small volume on the southeast side of the project accentuates the impression of a respectful approach, as it conserves the landscape perspective from the Main Building. The Jury found the siting to be very appealing; the relationship between the podium and the building clearly defines the different types of usage as they relate to the existing podium and green spaces. The Jury appreciated the project’s proposed dialogue between the Main Building, the existing large conference room, and the exterior. The sense of fluidity and openness created by the project in the context are remarkable and suggest there is opportunity for future evolution. The siting of the podium is a key element of the project, highlighting all the existing components. It gives coherence to the circulation patterns throughout the site, and reinforces the connection and relationship to the park. The specific elements of the program, such as the restaurant and the new conference rooms are well situated and enhance the beautiful character of the site overall. This project has a ‘correctness’ that is reinforced by its coherence and modesty through a harmonious dialogue with Jean Tschumi’s building. The minimalist massing sited at the end of the parcel presents itself as a respectful extension, both distant and close at the same time. The materiality of the façade also constitutes a key element in the success of this extension. At this point in the project development, the proposal must be further resolved. The search for timeless simplicity is the intent for this project, and it is crucial that this project succeeds in this regard. The material choices for the podium are clearly different from those of the extension itself and will have to harmonize well with both the park and the Main Building in order to be coherent with the unifying qualities of the podium. The jury would like the authors, through project development, to retain and strengthen the qualities that were initially found appealing. Key elements of the program must be improved for the Commissioning Organization, such as the dimensions of the conference room, which is constrained to the center of vertical circulation cores. The floor-to-ceiling height must be proven as viable for the end-users. A change in dimensions of the New Building should be considered in order to comply with the legal requirements for setbacks and height limitations. In the opinion of the Commissioning Organization, this excellent project can only improve.   2nd Place – Rudy Ricciotti, Paris p5a 1.17p2 p3 p4 p5 Renderings and drawings courtesy Rudy Ricciotti (click to enlarge) The Jury truly appreciated the evolution of the proposal between the first and the second stage of the competition, as well as the radical choice of designing a project that was inserted into the site completely and not rising above the level of the lobby of Jean Tschumi’s Main Building. This proposed extension clearly highlights the Main Building and offers many different ways for user to appropriate the site. The building, named “Le Paviliion,” is a central element that plays a convincing role in this project. Its siting and dimensions, as well as the elements of the program (such as the conference room and restaurant) contribute to making it fundamental for WHO in this context. The relationship with the exterior space is judicious and highlights the siting of these elements. The Jury noted the great determination to create a user-friendly place of communication for users and Member States delegates in a theatrical setting flooded with natural overhead lighting, for these are elements that constitute the functional heart of the institution. This treatment, which evokes a large carpet filtering the light, and which can be seen both from inside and outside, becomes a key element of this design. The Jury considered the hierarchy from the ordering of the spaces to be a great quality of the project. The Jury particularly appreciated the well-drawn sections proposed for the whole project. The office component of the project fits into a building volume, which reinforces the building perimeter on the east and south sides. This proposal is very coherent in terms of urban planning and clearly defines the built elements of WHO. Although the Jury appreciated this siting, it was not convinced by the interior circulation resulting from this strategy. The long corridors with little visibility to the outdoors led to a discussion about their functionality for WHO staff. Had the project consisted of a loop, it would have been better received. The landscape proposal relates perfectly to the strong intent to form a green esplanade that blends with the landscape and also with Jean Tschumi’s Main Building. The presence of water in the design of the exterior hardscape highlights both the existing buildings and the buildings proposed in the project. The carefully arranged promenades offer highly varied visual perspectives in the park. This project was appealing in the way it respectfully related to the Main Building as an emblem. It was one of the proposals that informed the debate with high quality questions and answers in terms of urban planning and architecture. 3rd Place – RED Architectes / DAD Architecte, Paris vue jardin vue atrium vue faaade loin vue interieure vue restaurant vue patio coupe de dctail plan massecoupe transversale 2 Renderings and drawings courtesy RED Architectes (click to enlarge) The project is integrated into the site with very clear and unified massing. This siting concept expresses strength and simplicity. The length of the proposed volume structures the site in a very coherent manner, thereby supporting the urban planning rationale that was originally envisioned by Jean Tschumi in his original competition project for the Main Building. The siting of this sober, evanescent building as it is represented creates a visual relationship between the esplanade granting access to WHO on the north side, and the park on the south side; it also very clearly defines the site of the WHO headquarters, as much for the access esplanade as for the park. The jury noted that is proposal clearly defines the built elements of WHO on the site, highlights the landscaped garden and, through its radical choices, stands out as a very present monolithic extension. The relationship with the landscape and the space that the siting leaves for it are key elements that confirm this as a quality concept. The podium, which contains the conference activities, reinforces the impression of adequacy as it relates to the site. The concept creates a relationship with the garden, emphasizing the continuity between the interior and the exterior spaces, thereby encouraging the users to appropriate these exterior spaces as vital places that offer opportunities for meetings, walks, exchanges and other activities. The highlighted very green exterior space was considered as a positive quality of the project. The ground floor is dedicated to circulation and to the restaurant, and offers a very coherent route for staff and visitors, as it is directly linked to the Main Building lobby. The development of office space on the upper floors was soberly and economically rationalized as a narrow blade reaching skywards, with atrium spaces on multiple levels that punctuate the long corridors on each level. The Jury was not convinced by the assertion of transparency o

ften mentioned and claimed by the project. This goal of ‘evanescence’ is present in all the drawings and the description of the project: “a thin blade constructed of concrete, wood and glass, a crystalline parallelepiped playing with reflection and transparency to fit in the landscape. It has a strong symbolical dimension, which corresponds to the values of WHO. (…) it represents transparency, simplicity and legibility.” However, the materials proposed to obtain such a high degree of transparency for the building were not sufficiently developed for the appealing concept.   4th Place- MADe, Hyderabad, India img 01 img 02 img 03 img 04 dwg volumetric sections ew 2 dwg volumetric sections ns 2 dwg sections 2 dwg level -0 2 dia conference room dia structure dwg level -1 dwg level -2 Renderings and drawings courtesy MADe (click to enlarge) The project minimally impacts the site due to a modest siting that follows the natural contours of the landscape. The concept of the massing not being visible from the ground floor of the Main Building is appealing, as it surrounds the site by developing all along the perimeter on the park side. This tactic integrates the park as a private area that may provide interesting qualities for appropriation of the space by WHO staff and restaurant users. The approach was respectful of the existing architectural heritage, which was very appealing. In this context, the aspiration for total evanescence led to a very minimalist architecture in the park. The project raised interesting questions for the Commissioning organization regarding the quality of circulation throughout and the connections with the esplanade, the garden, and the landscape. The proposal reflects a clear intention to compose and arrange exterior spaces very modestly. Accessibility and circulation on the green roofs of the buildings demonstrate the strong will to create a landscape in front of the Main Building. The visual perspectives for those walking on these areas above the office space and the restaurant are amazing. The impression given is that of a concept in which architecture is freed from materiality, and where what comes first is the need to insert an emergent form, which must be representative and fit in its environment. The Jury regrets the lack of continuity in the patterns of movement proposed on the green roofs. For the first stage the candidate had provided for an elevated pedestrian walkway that extended the route above avenue Appia towards the park of the international Labour Organization (ILO), which made the concept coherent. For the second stage, the route (out-and-back) seemed anecdotal and was found less appealing. For the interior spaces, the project proposes a succession of several patios to provide natural lighting in the corridors and open plan areas. This layout did not convince the Jury, which remained skeptical as to the quality of these spaces and their daily functionality for WHO personnel. The Jury had concerns regarding the functionality and the siting of the conference room, which constitutes and important element in the program and must be divisible into four parts. In the context of the project, this room does not fully meet the Commissioning Organization’s expectations. Although the Jury found it very appealing, the proposed siting strategy that effectively integrated the extension in the site was indicative of the difficulty for the candidates to meet all the expectations of WHO in terms of functional and organizational qualities of the extension. 5th Place – JAJA, Copenhagen 05 across the garden 01 promenade on the plinth 02 lobby in the plinth 03 gardens below the plinth 04 office view to the plinth 06 office interior 08 conference interior 09 across the pond 10 tschumi overview who-commuinty concept-diagrams 1 jaja-architects who-commuinty concept-diagrams 2 jaja-architectswho-commuinty concept-diagrams 3 jaja-architects who-commuinty concept-diagrams 4 jaja-architects who-commuinty model-1 jaja-architects who-commuinty model-2 jaja-architects who-commuinty model-3 jaja-architects Renderings and drawings courtesy JAJA (click to enlarge) The project is integrated into the site through a subtle composition of pavilions. This strategy, with its varied volumes, enhances the character of the landscaped public space for its users. The Jury appreciated the way the project is adapted to the site and the creation of a promenade at the podium level of the Main Building on a portion of the proposed buildings, which gives identity to the site. The Jury particularly appreciated the quality of the connection between the Main Building and the different elements of the program developed in these pavilions. The main link on leve-2 is presented as a main interior artery with views to the landscape; it leads to all pavilions: the “SHOC room,” the conference area, office spaces, and also gives access to the restaurant, which is operated on the same level as this circulation route. This crucial, perfectly integrated artery is consistently sited facing the entrance of the Main Building on the lower (-1) level. This clarity and the relationships it engenders among the different spaces enhance the quality of the routes of circulation that the Jury noted in this project. It is one of the few projects that succeeded in creating a loop, since access to the new conference rooms is connected to the existing pavilion created by Jean Tschumi for the large conference room. The functionality, legibility and siting of the horizontal circulation constitute one of the great qualities of this proposal. This organization of the site necessitated a number of patios to benefit from natural light and to facilitate views from the office areas onto enclosed green spaces. The Jury noted that to include all the activities of the program and to minimize the impact of the pavilion dedicated to office space, the project, as shown in the section drawings, is clearly anchored in the ground. The lowest point of the patio projection was at the same elevation as Level -2 of the Main Building. In particular, the effort to maximize natural lighting on the southeast side confirms this impression. The Jury is not convinced by this siting, as the lower floors and office space do not seem appealing. While the Jury found the general organization of the concept very interesting, it entails the generation of long central distribution corridors for WHO personnel and users. As a key distinguishing element between the extension and the existing Main Building, the proposed use of marble, although diversified throughout the project, evokes a materiality inappropriate to reflect the values of WHO. The Jury found this siting concept very coherent in this context.