Taking stock: Geneva’s international organizations’ renovations

Improved work space and better energy use give breath of fresh air to tired buildings

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Fipoi is not an acronym that is as familiar as many in Geneva, where they abound as the names we know for international organizations, but without Fipoi most of them would not be here. Monday the federal and cantonal governments took stock of 15 current renovation projects for international organizations.

The city is home to 25 of Switzerland’s 35 international organizations, including the European headquarters of the United Nations.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, one of the buildings owned by Fipoi

UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, one of the buildings owned by Fipoi

Fipoi stands for La Fondation des immeubles pour les organisations internationales, a non-profit foundation jointly created in 1964 by the federal government and canton Geneva. Its job is to make it easier for international organizations to establish offices in Geneva, mainly by helping them set up their infrastructures, especially real estate, but it also organizes 250 conferences that bring in 40,000 people a year.

The canton makes land available to Fipoi, some 582,000 square metres with a value of CHF252 million. The Swiss Confederation has made available to Fipoi more than CHF1b, of which CHF814 have been loans and CHF492 were donations.

Fipoi in turn has financed CHF1 billion in construction costs or helping organizations acquire buildings, since it was created. It has financed 12 buildings, it owns nine and manages two, the Centre William Rappard (WTO), Palais Wilson (HCHR). Its loans to international organizations are interest-free, for a period of 50 years: most of their construction and extensions, in Geneva or elsewhere in Switzerland, have been covered by Fipoi.

Three major projects part of larger effort to keep Geneva an international centre

Fipoi is currently involved in three mega-projects:


The WTO was opened to the public in 2009 to present the planned renovations and gain public support for the project

World Trade Organization’s  Centre William Rappard
The work to renovate and extend the centre was the source of heated debate in Geneva in 2009, but the work has now been completed: existing buildings were freshened up and old equipment replaced, a central space was created in the south courtyard to link main conference areas, the north courtyard was enclosed by adding a roof to allow this public area to remain open year-round.

The new building, on the south side of the plot of land, is home to 300 staff, services and a cafeteria. Care was taken to have it blend into the landscape of Parc Barton, without destroying the historic garden areas, which have remained open to the public.
The centre uses solar heating and water from Lake Geneva for heating and air conditioning. The cost: CHF130 million, of which CHF50m went to the new building. CHF70m were a donation from the Swiss Confederation and CHF60 a Fipoi loan to the WTO.
Palais des Nations, modernization of its energy system

Swiss artist Hans Erni's peace freso, on the front wall of the United Nations European headquarters

Swiss artist Hans Erni’s peace freso, on the front wall of the United Nations European headquarters

The UN’s European home, the Palais des Nations, is undertaking the largest renovation in its history, at a cost of CHF600 million. The “exceptional heritage nature of the building makes the renovation work particularly complex”, according to the Swiss Foreign Affairs Department.

CHF50 million will be spent by the Swiss Confederation during 2013 to replace 1,100 windows and outdoor blinds, redo roofing insulation and glassed areas, improve lighting and add automatic lighting systems indoors to reduce energy consumption.Thermal and photovoltaic solar panels are being installed on some rooftops. Ventilation systems are being reviewed and the centralized technical management is being upgraded. World Health Organization (WHO), renovation and extension of head office

WHO headquarters in Geneva

WHO headquarters in Geneva

The WHO has had a number of temporary extensions tacked onto the original Jean Tschumi building over the years and it has reached the point where these cut the spatial aspects of the original design, which has great architectural and heritage value, the foreign affairs ministry says.

An overall review that was undertaken determined that the WHO needs a new building with emphasis put on its energy performance, to replace the various temporary structures. The Tschumi building will also be renovated, taking into account its special features.
Some of the land freed up by the move to a new building is being reassessed for better use in future.