On April 22 of this year, the Economic and Social Council Chamber (ECOSOC) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York was re-inaugurated after a renovation project. The original interior furnishings of the chamber were a gift from the nation of Sweden, and were designed by architect Sven Markelius. The focal point of the room is a 72 by 23 foot window facing the East River. Since the chamber’s opening in 1952, this window has been the site of three spectacular curtains by Swedish designers.
The original curtain was designed by Marianne Richter and produced at Studio Märta Måås-Fjetterström. Made in tapestry technique, it took ten weavers one year to produce. Markelius acknowledged that it was the curtain that gave the chamber its character; a Swedish newspaper of the period described its “calm dignity… stability and gravitas.” Richter’s was the ‘evening’ curtain, and was accompanied by a ‘day’ curtain designed by Astrid Sampe, but it was eventually decided that Richter’s curtain must remain closed at all times for security reasons.
The curtain returned to Sweden for cleaning and restoration in 1965, but its condition deteriorated, probably speeded by the chemical flame-retardant treatments required by New York State law. In 1988, Richter’s curtain was replaced by one made from Markelius’s design Pythagoras, printed by Ljungbergs; the complex design requires 18 screens, and was printed on velvet. Pythagoras was designed around the same time as the ECOSOC Chamber, but was originally created for the Royal Institute of Technology assembly hall in Stockholm. Considered an icon of Swedish design, Pythagoras is still in production today. This example from the Museum’s collection was distributed in the United States by Knoll Textiles.
The recent renovation of the ECOSOC chamber in in many ways restored the room: the walls were painted in the original colors, and the slatted-pine wall treatment was cleaned and restored. Re-creation of the Richter curtain was ruled out due to expense; also, other permanent changes to the chamber made a complete restoration impossible. Instead the government of Sweden decided to donate a contemporary work of art, to show its ongoing commitment to the United Nations in its constant and evolving mission. The new curtain, by painter Ann Edholm, is called Dialogos. The curtain’s monumental wedges of orange and white reflect on the definition of dialog—mutual exchange on equal terms—as the foundation of democratic discourse. It is also in dialog with Markelius’ original intent and vision, as well as with Pythagoras and Richter’s curtain, all three designs were based in the strength and balance of the triangle form.
United Nations Economic and Social Council Chamber, New York, with new curtain by Ann Edholm.