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UN History

A Palace for All Nations

Palais Wilson Plans

On 15 November 1920, an enthusiastic crowd welcomed the delegates of the First Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva. A ceremony, at the foot of the statue of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the same day, recalled that the choice of Geneva as the headquarters of the first political international organization in history is not insignificant, and refers to the famous ‘Spirit of Geneva’ that the first years of existence of the League of Nations have praised.

The League of Nations initially established its Secretariat in the Palais Wilson, the former Hotel Nationale, along the shores of Lake Geneva. An Extraordinary Assembly was held in 1926 to commence an international architectural competition for the design of the Palais des Nations, the future home of the League of Nations. Nine plans were chosen from 377 submissions, and ultimately five architects were selected to develop the final designs together. The five architects chosen to collaborate on a final design were Julien Flegenheimer of Switzerland, Camille Lefèvre and Henri-Paul Nénot of France, Carlo Broggi of Italy and József Vágó of Hungary.Though not included in the original design, a Library was incorporated into the Palais following a US $2 million donation from John D. Rockefeller Jr.

With the inclusion of a Library, the League of Nations needed to find a larger parcel of land than originally planned along the shores of Lake Geneva. Ultimately, through an exchange with the City of Geneva, the Palais found its home in the 46-hectare Ariana Park. The Park had been bequeathed to the City of Geneva by Gustave Revilliod upon his death in 1890, as the last descendent of the Revilliod de la Rive family.  

Built in the art deco style of the times, the foundation stone of the Palais was ceremoniously laid in Ariana Park on 7 September 1929. Beneath the stone is a casket containing a list of the League of Nations Member States, a copy of the Covenant of the League and specimen coins of all the countries represented at its Tenth Assembly. The League of Nations moved its headquarters from the Palais Wilson to the Palais des Nations in 1936.

Though dissolved at a final Assembly held in Geneva in April 1946, the League of Nations handed over its properties and assets to the United Nations Organization, the Palais des Nations being its crown jewel. While the headquarters of the new Organization was established in New York, the European Office of the United Nations was created in the Palais des Nations.

Since the completion of construction in 1938, the Palais des Nations has undergone numerous extensions and additions, including the ongoing Strategic Heritage Project (SHP) . Today, the Palais consists of 34 conference rooms and approximatlely 2,800 offices, making it the second largest United Nations center after the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Major Construction dates

  • 1929 – 1938: Construction of the League of Nations building
    Secretariat – Council – Assembly – Library    
  • 1950 – 1952: First extension
    Construction of K building and D wing
  • 1968 – 1973: Second extension to the building
    Construction of E building    
  • 2017 – 2024: Strategic Heritage Plan
    H Building and Temporary Infrastructure for Conferences

Main dimensions

  • Length of the buildings (Genève-Lausanne) : 950 m
  • Footprint area: 35 900 m2
  • Built area: 153,500 m2
  • Number of Conference Rooms: 34
  • Number of Offices: 2,800
  • Surface area of the Ariana Park: 45 hectares
  • Number of trees in the Ariana Park: 800 (identified with a name plate, around 100)

International centre for learning

UN Library 1920

A Library for the League of Nations was established along with its founding in 1919.

In November 1920, it moved with the League to Geneva, Switzerland, where it was allotted a dining room and a few offices and cellars in the Hôtel National, the imposing building on the shores of Lake Geneva that served as the League's temporary headquarters.

In 1927, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the American industrialist and philanthropist, contributed two million dollars to endow the League of Nations with a modern library suitable for the study of international relations. The donation expressed Rockefeller's strong belief in the role of the League Library as a force to promote peace through knowledge.

Rockefeller's wish was that the League's Library served the dual role of providing information to members of the League's Secretariat as well as making its rich collections available to scholars and researchers around the world.

The Palais des Nations has undergone a number of renovation and extension projects:

  • 1950-1952: Three floors were added to the K building (now S1) and the D building was built, to temporarily accommodate staff of the World Health Organization, during the construction of their headquarters.

  • 1968-1973: Construction of the E building, designed by a team of five architects led by Eugène Beaudoin (France), was meant to host the headquarters of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and to meet the growing need for conference facilities.

  • 2003 – 2005: Pregny Gate, Chemin de Fer Gate and Nations Gate Improved security at the UN Geneva compound 

  • 2008: Renovation and upgrade of Room XX by Spain

  • 2016: Renovation and upgrade of Room XVII by United Arab Emirates

  • 2019: Renovation and upgrade of Room XIX by Qatar

  • 2017-2024: The Strategic Heritage Plan included the construction of the H building,  a sustainable office building, the comprehensive renovation and modernization of the historical buildings and the dismantling of the office tower above conference Building E.
SHP Progress