International Geneva’s metamorphosis gathers pace

The Place des Nations square, with the renovated Broken Chair statue, is a popular meeting place for protestors and tourists Schuerpf

Colossal amounts of money are being spent on makeovers for many of the international organisation headquarters based in Geneva. So what’s changing?

This content was published on August 25, 2016 minutes

The international district in Geneva is undergoing huge changes as part of the long-term "Jardin des Nations" cantonal development project. In all, over CHF2 billion ($2 billion) is being invested in new buildings and major renovations, as well as local transport. A considerable chunk of the finance consists of federal and cantonal loans. 

Here are a selection of some of the new buildings and transformations:

New building planned at UN Palais des Nations complex UNOG

The canton of Geneva and Swiss federal authorities recently approved huge loans towards renovating and improving the UN Palais des Nations. The UN’s historic but crumbling European headquarters, built in the 1930s, is set to be renovated at a cost of CHF836.5 million ($846.6 million) – half financed by interest-free loans from the Confederation (CHF292 million) and canton Geneva (CHF108 million). 

A new building that blends into the undulating landscape will also be added to the northeast of the complex to add 700 staff, mainly from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva [Palais des Nations currently accommodates 2,800]. Work will run from 2017 to 2023.

New wing planned at WHO HQ WHO

North of the UN, renovation work is also due to start next year on the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters. A nine-storey office block will replace an ageing prefabricated wing in a style that mirrors the original sixties design of Swiss architect Jean Tschumi. The three-year renovation work, costing CHF140 million, will mostly be covered by Bern (CHF76.4 million) and Geneva (CHF29.6 million).

New Campus Santé complex Credit Suisse/Implenia

Other health-related organisations will also be accommodated in new digs. Construction has started on ‘Campus Santé’, a new building housing 1,500 staff from the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria and GAVI, a global vaccine alliance. It is hoped that synergies will be created with WHO and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) nearby.

International Labour Organization (ILO) HQ Simon Bradley/

Another old building getting a new look (budget: CHF300 million) is the imposing 11-storey International Labour Organization (ILO) headquarters, home to 1,400 staff. The concrete monolith built between 1969-1974 is getting a facelift. Asbestos is being removed and the interiors are being remodeled. 

The Confederation is loaning CHF70 million and canton Geneva has donated land. To help fund the operation, the ILO has also sold land it owns close to the building – one 7,000m2 plot to Saudi Arabia to build luxury flats and another for Graduate Institute student lodgings. 

Some 29,500 international diplomats and civil servants are based in Geneva, with round 9,500 staff working for the United Nations family. Commuting to work can be a headache. The authorities intend to invest CHF500 million by 2025 in local mobility.

An underground road tunnel will be built from the Grand-Saconnex motorway roundabout and exit near the World Health Organization (WHO) (to be completed in 2021). This work will be followed by an extension of the No.15 tram line north of the Place des Nations to Grand-Saconnex and eventually to the town of Ferney, just over the border in France.

Meanwhile, a network of paths for pedestrians and cyclists will be built to crisscross the international district and local historic buildings and villas belonging to the canton are set to get a facelift.

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