Wednesday afternoon, AN stepped inside the United Nations Security Council Chamber to see how the global institution had spruced the place up. No, we didn’t just walk in there—you can’t do that; it’s the UN. We were invited by the Royal Norwegian Consulate. Anyway, after a six-year renovation, which was part of the UN’s larger Capital Master Plan to renovate the entire East River campus, the truly awe-inspiring space has been returned to its original, mid-century glory. The chamber was gutted, upgraded, and then put back together with a few 21st Century bells and whistles thrown in—out with the ashtrays and in with the outlets!
The seats. (Henry Melcher / AN)
The Security Council Chamber was originally designed by Norwegian architect Arnstein Arneberg and given to the UN as a gift by the Norwegians in 1952.Seating around the main table. (Henry Melcher / AN)
Every aspect of the Security Council Chamber reminds you that it is a Very Important Room. Let’s start with the iconic horseshoe table which is topped with placards and perfectly angled pencils at each seat. A gavel is positioned at the center of the table to mark the acting president’s prime spot. Around the ambassadors’ seats are the color-coded chairs: blue for advisors, red for member states, and green for visitors and members of the press. The chamber’s high walls are covered in a wool Damask wallpaper.Member states in red, visitors and press in green. (Henry Melcher / AN)
If that didn’t drive the point home that this is a Very Important Room, then direct your attention to the massive oil canvas where a phoenix is rising from the ashes. That mural is surrounded by marble.
And that marble is bookended by heavy, detailed curtains. Originally, the curtains were left open to provide views of the East River, but since the table is shaped like a horseshoe, light was unevenly distributed on the Security Council members. “The people who were facing East got better seating because the sunlight would stream in and they would look happy,” said Michael Adlerstein, the Assistant Secretary General of the UN and Executive Director of its Capital Master plan. “The other people did not, they were in shadows and looked evil.”Gavel for the acting president. (Henry Melcher / AN)
The natural light also started causing problems for this new-fangled technology called “television.” Ultimately, it was decided to close the curtains and bring in more artificial light.Seats for member states. (Henry Melcher / AN)
With this recent renovation, the UN set out to make the chamber more energy efficient and increase security measures while not compromising any of the original design elements. To achieve that tricky goal, the space was reduced to its concrete shell, asbestos and contaminates were removed, new heating and cooling systems were installed, and measures were taken to fortify the space against a possible explosion. With all of those improvements in place, the room was reassembled with a few cosmetic changes—seats were reupholstered, marble was washed, the mural was cleaned, and tapestries and fabrics were scrubbed or recreated.Security Council Table. (Henry Melcher / AN)
Adlerstein said that, at the end of the renovation, the Security Council Chamber hadn’t changed “by one iota.” Of course, a lot has changed in recent years, but all of it has been successfully hidden away in this Very Important Room.
For more on the renovation, check out the video below the from the Royal Norwegian Consulate General New York