“When I walked into the room yesterday – seeing it for the first time – it was like walking into Alice in Wonderland,” says designer Kasper Salto. “It was like walking into the drawings we’ve been working on for two years.”
The room he’s describing is the fully restored Trusteeship Council Chamber that Finn Juhl designed more than 60 years ago for the UN headquarters in New York. After decades of use and off-target alterations, the chamber has been renovated with the furniture, lighting fixtures, draperies and other objects originally specified by Finn Juhl. The updated space also includes a new chair and table designed by Kasper Salto and Thomas Sigsgaard, who won a competition sponsored by the Danish Arts Foundation.
Finn Juhl's FJ51 Chair shown with Salto & Sigsgaard's table. One of the officials noted the importance of the removable seat cushion, "in case we come to blows and need to settle things that way in this room." A lip on the table was added at the suggestion of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe, who feared important papers sliding off the back could start an international scandal. Photo: Gwendolyn Horton
Juhl was just 38 when he was selected to represent his country in the creation of this meeting room located in the UN headquarters designed by Le Corbusier and Oscar Neimeyer. The Danish architect strongly believed that furniture must be “participatory in the architectural space,” and when he designed a room or building he would also create nearly every object inside, seeking what he referred to as “a unity of things. Not a uniformity, but evidence of a complete thought process behind everything that you do.”
“Finn Juhl gave himself the freedom to let the influence of art come in,” says designer Kasper Salto, and this statement is perhaps most relevant to the colorful ceiling in this room. "It's like music," says one visitor. "It's art," says another. Michael Adlerstein, Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan at the UN, describes it as a canopy, "like branches of a tree stretching over you."
Personally, it reminds me of flags, but what's most interesting is that it's a beautiful solution to what Juhl considered a problem: the ceiling is too low. To save as much of the room height as possible, Juhl rejected the idea of a suspended ceiling, and invented a system of wood trellises to support the lighting and ventilation boxes.
The six colors used in the ceiling are also found in the carpet, the recreation of which turned out to be one of the biggest challenges of the renovation. When you consider that this is a room where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photographs have been taken, it is surprising to learn that very few captured the carpet. The team was able to find two photos, only one of which was in color. Fortunately, the black-and-white included something even more valuable: the King of Morocco's foot. Using his foot for scale, they were able to determine the size of the lines in the carpet pattern.
This is a space where everything is done to emphasize democracy, from having all delegates on the same level to ensuring that everyone is equally illuminated and easily heard, it's a shame that the public is rarely allowed into this room. There are lessons to be learned here and not just about architecture.