The United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the leading intergovernmental entity in the field of migration, working closely with governmental, intergovernmental and NGO partners. Their mission is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all by providing services and advice to governments and migrants. In late 2021, Sharon Davis Design was invited to participate in a 14-team competition to design a new headquarters for the IOM on the United Nations campus in Geneva.
The driving ideas behind our building reflect the organization it is designed to host. When entering the building, one is greeted by the majestic Baobab tree. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, the Baobab tree represents the hope of survival in local folklore, providing food, water, and shelter to those who seek it. The Baobab tree also serves an homage to Africa being the cradle of humanity, and the source of global diaspora through prehistoric movement and migration. This movement is captured in six floors of office space above, joined by alternating double-height communal spaces on the north and south wings, each representing an occupied continent through the ceremonial dusting of local soil into polished earthen floors, allowing users to follow the cycle of human migration from Africa to South America.
Sustainable materials and user wellness rest at the center of our design. We have minimized the use of materials with high carbon footprints, and instead have opted for a hybrid structural system consisting of a cross laminated timber (CLT) frame resting above a pediment of rammed earth. Our material selections allow us to create a building with an incredibly localized construction footprint which takes advantage of materials found on site as well as nearby CLT mills within Switzerland and Germany to further reduce embodied energy. Where more carbon-intensive materials are required, such as concrete, recycled aggregate from the demolition of the existing office building is used to reduce impact. Beyond the use of highly sustainable materials and construction practices, the building is oriented to take advantage of prevailing winds to naturally ventilate the space, reducing energy demand while allowing occupants to manually regulate their thermal comfort. Earthen floors and walls keep temperatures stable throughout the day with their high thermal mass, while high-performance glazing encourages natural daylighting throughout the building. The building is also integrated into Geneva’s Genilac system – a city-wide network of piping taking advantage of Lake Geneva to passively regulate temperatures. A great emphasis is placed on nature as sanctuary. A green roof open to the public connects rests above the ground floor podium, creating a pedestrian connection to the street level, while workspaces all have access to outdoor green spaces through balconies which hug three historic white oaks found on site that are to be preserved.
Migration has been a constant throughout human history. In this day and age it is critical for it to be supported in a transparent, noble and humane way. It has been a privilege to reflect those ideals within our building.