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 - 11:00

After the recent additions of the stunning Maison de la Paix state-of-the art campus and new World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) conference halls, more building work is underway or expected as part of the vast ‘Jardin des Nations’ cantonal plan to develop the sprawling neighbourhoodExternal link.

“The amounts of money committed to transformations and renovations are astronomical and there are big infrastructure projects planned, like the Route des Nations link road and tunnel, and the extension of the 15 tram to Grand-Saconnex,” explains Pascal Michel, acting head of the cantonal urban development service responsible for the international district.

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.

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. The aim is to encourage the public to discover the little-known district and improve access to the nearby countryside.

Other projects are in gestation. Local officials were relieved to learn recently that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) plans to stay in Geneva, despite offers from India and the United Arab Emirates. The Swiss authorities have promised to loan CHF150 million to build a new office block to replace a 1960s building. Meanwhile, the ITU is looking into selling its tower that overlooks the Place des Nations square.

A building that forms part of the headquarters of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Societies is also being demolished and a new office is planned, funded by Swiss government loans. The Tour des Feuillantines project, a tower housing international organisations and permanent diplomatic missions close to the Place des Nations, has been shelved. In its place, a foundation is seeking to build a classical concert hall on the land and to bring together Geneva music schools scattered across the city.

While Geneva struggles with shortages of apartments and houses, the Jardin des Nations plan does not allow for much new housing, beyond apartment-hotel projects or student accommodation. 

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