The ECOSOC Chamber: Reflecting history and progress in one design

The ECOSOC chamber will be home to the upcoming TEDxUNPlaza event on September 16th , 2013. Though the chamber is well known to be an integral part of United Nations’ functionality, few know the artistic and diplomatic history of the chamber, and the role that it currently plays in forwarding the post-2015 development agenda. As such, in order to understand the relevance of the venue to the TEDxUNPlaza theme of “Brave – United in Action” it seems necessary to elaborate on how much the ECOSOC chamber has contributed to modern diplomacy.

The Economic and Social Council chamber was originally a gift by the Swedish government. Designed by renowned architect Sven Markelius in 1952, the original design was meant to reflect openness and democratic values. These themes were only bolstered by the open concept of the room, circular design of the seats and immense light from the floor to ceiling window with a view of the East River. One of the major challenges from the start was the low ceiling height at the back of the chamber. The decision to open the ceiling and bare the internal piping of the chamber unwittingly became a symbol of the continual work of ECOSOC. The unfinished nature of the architecture communicated that the work of the United Nations was never complete.

Former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld was keenly involved in the planning and execution of the first ECOSOC Chamber. Being from Sweden himself, he greatly supported the initiatives of the architects and their attempts to develop a more revolutionary design. However, more than anything, he wanted the aesthetics of the chamber to reflect the ethos behind ECOSOC- that economic and social matters were as important, if not more so, than political affairs. According to Hammarskjöld, “while the Security Council exists primarily for settling conflicts which have arisen, the Economic and Social Council exists primarily to eliminate the causes of conflicts.” After his sudden death in 1961, his words and focus on solidarity have become the raison d’être of ECOSOC.

Over the years, the chamber has gone through major changes, particularly when the seating was redesigned in 1974 to accommodate double the original capacity. Since then, chairs have been re-upholstered, tables secured, and lighting changed all the while maintaining the integrity of the space, and the intentions of the original architects. In April of 2013, a new curtain was introduced after previous iterations had deteriorated over time. The artist, Ann Edholm, titled the piece Diologos to represent the continual and free dialogue that is happening in the chamber. The city of New York and the special light that this metropolis casts on international dialogue was also a motivating factor in the piece.

With the era of Millennium Development Goals coming to a close, new goals and targets will need to be defined for the post-2015 agenda. The ECOSOC chamber hosts meetings on the integrated and coordinated follow-up of the outcomes of all major United Nations conferences and summits in economic, social, environmental and other related fields. With representation from each of the five world regions- Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, East Europe, and West Europe and the other developed countries , it is the ideal forum to build consensus amongst the international community. One of the most anticipated events this year is the establishment of a new body, the High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development, which is expected to provide leadership in the formulation of the goals and targets in the post-2015 development agenda at the international level.

THIS is where TEDxUNPlaza will take place! True to the spirit of innovation, TEDxUNPlaza will transform the chamber with a custom stage built in the centre, There is also expected to be a “keynote” backdrop on to which images will be projected. The TEDxUNPlaza team is hard at work integrating the latest technology into the production, to accurately represent the tremendous change that speakers will have led in their respective fields. This is something that the ECOSOC chamber has never seen before, and is the perfect way to start the event: with new ideas, innovative approaches, and one-of-a-kind designs. We hope you are as excited as we are to be “brave and united in action” at this historic venue.

Anjali Rangaswami is part of the Communications and Outreach team at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Meng Li is an Associate Economic Affairs Officer at the United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs. She lives in New York City and has served on the team for TEDxRio+20. Twitter: @meng_li


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