‘The most important room in the world’ reopens

Jennifer Karmon

Since 1952, one room in New York City has acted as the world's emergency room, the main place where leaders gather whenever world peace is threatened.

But the United Nations Security Council Chamber had been showing the effects of time. So in 2010, it closed temporarily. U.N. Security Council members made do with a replica while the real space underwent renovation.

On April 16, the chamber finally reopened. And what had changed in those three years?

Hardly a thing.

The recent renovation sought to ensure that the chamber "look exactly as it did in 1952," according to Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide at the April 16 rededication of the chamber, which was a gift from Norway. He referred to the chamber as "perhaps the most important room in the world."

The meticulous restoration is a testament to the success of the original architect, Arnstein Arneberg of Norway, who told Interiors magazine more than 60 years ago that his goal was "to execute a room of good, durable materials with a character, in all simplicity, which represented not only a casual taste of today, but a character so neutral that it could withstand the test of time."

Over the last three years, the place was stripped down to bare walls and floors. Air conditioning and ventilation were upgraded, electronics were improved, security was strengthened.

But the design itself has remained the same.

Rededicating the room, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised its "beauty and majesty," which "speaks to us in a language of dignity and seriousness" and yet also projects "surprising and enchanting simplicity."

Back in its place was the iconic horseshoe-shaped table. The blue damask wall covering by Norwegian artist Else Poulsson, imprinted with yellow anchors (symbolizing faith), growing wheat (hope) and hearts (charity). The enormous oil-on-canvas mural by Norwegian artist Per Krohg, depicting a phoenix rising from the ashes of conflict.

New York architect John Hill, author of the book "Guide to Contemporary New York Architecture," writes on his Archidose architecture blog: "While hardly timeless, the combination of modern architecture, a figurative mural, modern furnishings, and richly patterned wallpaper is a successful one that manages to exude calm and respect."

Hill calls particular attention to how "the furnishings and materials manage to work together, even as the combination of modern, marble, and regular pattern blends some usually irreconcilable design features."

Although most of the work merely restored the room's original grandeur and colors, at least one change was visible.

"If my predecessor Trygve Lie of Norway were with us today, I am sure he would feel quite at home in this renovated Security Council Chamber," the secretary-general said. "Perhaps the only thing he would miss would be the ashtrays."

The ashtrays were replaced with data outlets next to the microphones on the horseshoe table.