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The World of Parliaments
  IPU News

The House of Parliaments becomes the new IPU Headquarters

IPU Headquarters
The House of Parliaments, the new IPU Headquarters will be officially inaugurated in 2003. Photo Brauen & Wälchli architectural firm
. On 2 December 2002, the Inter-Parliamentary Union took possession of its new headquarters, known as the House of Parliaments and located on the Chemin du Pommier in Geneva. The official inauguration is set for 2003. Before moving into the house previously known as the Villa Gardiol, the IPU Secretariat staff, FIPOI representatives, architects and construction workers gathered at the site for the traditional bouquet.

The Bouquet

In the words of Mr. Vanuxem, of the Induni construction company, "the bouquet comes at the end of the heavy building work, once we have completed the robust, indestructible shell of the whole edifice. The term refers to the construction workers' traditional celebration. "

Converging Interests

Pierre Gilliot represents the FIPOI (Buildings Foundation for International Organisations). "It is very important for Geneva to have a home for parliaments, because IPU is an organisation which has an impact on the international world of Geneva. The new House of Parliaments, anchored in both past and future, is emblematic of Geneva, a city of dialogue and peace. The idea of using an existing building for the project, as if to embody the IPU's deep roots, was a judicious one. The project also shows that IPU is open to the future and wants to invest and bring its assets to the fore in order to do a better job. The House of Parliaments thus stands for a convergence of noble interests in the sense that a venerable building has been embellished with a modern-day addition. The Canton of Geneva welcomed this opportunity to upgrade a fine bourgeois mansion to house an organisation that is in the throes of change. The IPU can now project itself into the future from a site that combines the old and the new. "

A Challenge for the Architects

"As an interior designer, I worked mainly on the offices. I discovered the project as an outsider, as I didn't monitor the work on the site as closely as my colleague Doris Wälchli did, but I'm very impressed to see it now that the structural work is finished. This is the most exciting stage because all the different volumes are there, even if the finishings remain to be done" said architect Ueli Brauen, of Brauen & Wälchli, the architectural firm that won the contract.

Doris Wälchli added "restoring an old mansion is not the hardest thing in the world, because you can trace features back to their historical roots, with specialists to help you, and discover their initial layout - because there have been changes - and more or less unearth the original functions. It's much harder to step into the breach and add something that fits into the whole, as in this case, and create a new ensemble which doesn't offend the old one. I think you have to respect the soul of the original, and protect it up to the very end of the work. I think we have managed to do that with our project, in the sense that all the new additions bring out the original qualities of the old house."

Through the Photographer's Eye

Swiss photographer Jean Mohr said "If there was one thing I almost regretted about this house, it was that I never went inside it at the start, while it was still inhabited by squatters, who are part of the youth of Geneva. They left visible traces of their stay, and bequeathed it a kind of soul. I'm not in favour of squatting buildings, but it's always something which stops us in our tracks, which has a fascinating, intriguing side to it. I was also interested in the different tradesmen as each left their mark - the metalworkers, tilers and stonemasons were all different, but each was an artisan deeply attached to a trade he had learnt. It was almost like stepping back into the last century. Visiting the site was a way of drawing new resources. Photographers aren't always welcome on building sites. Here I was almost alone, with nothing but the Jura mountains in the background. Sometimes you saw flocks of sheep grazing lower down in the meadow, which has disappeared now because other buildings are being put up there. I was prey to all kinds of sensations, to different values of light and dark, and I was entirely free to do what I wanted. I climbed the scaffolding, and approached things discreetly at first, gradually becoming more involved with my camera, engaged in a kind of photo-journalism in which my only idea was to try and understand what was happening and then turn it into pictures."

Brief History

"The villa Gardiol was built by Marc Camoletti in 1908. It was apparently the last work of this architect who also built the Mont-Blanc central post office and Victoria Hall, both in Geneva. This fine building which underwent a careful refurbishment that respected its history and materials was enlarged with a modern addition. The latter is an adjacent unit which will contain the meeting rooms, and which embellishes the old villa and enhances its identity. When I look at the different periods and some of the architectural features, I cannot help thinking of the Inter-Parliamentary Union itself, its establishment, its durability and development over the years, and finally the current reforms which in no way alter the basic foundations of the IPU. The future House of Parliaments has afforded a welcome new impetus that will encourage dialogue, the implementation of the reform principles, and change - in a word, greater openness" said Mrs. Micheline Rutsch, a member of the IPU Secretariat, who helped coordinate the project work.

The Site

"There were 22 masons in the team which started in mid September 2001. Other artisans followed. We were the engine driving the rest. Most of the workers were Portuguese. Portugal did a lot for the building project" added the site foreman, Mr. Antonio Soares.

Switzerland Supports the Initiative

Built by the winners of the IPU/FIPOI architectural contest, Brauen and Wälchli of Lausanne, the project to restore the Villa Gardiol and enlarge it with an annex was funded by a 9.5 million Swiss francs loan from the Swiss Federal Council in December 2000. The decision was approved by the Swiss Parliament in 2001. The House of Parliaments boasts reception rooms, two conference rooms, a cafeteria and two libraries along with some fifty offices. The loan is interest-free and payable over 50 years. The land was provided by the Canton of Geneva; the work started in Spring 2001. In a press statement by the Swiss Federal Department for External Affairs (DFAE), the Federal Council expressed its willingness, in making the offer, to support "first, an international organisation to which the Swiss parliamentarians are attached, and second, Geneva as a centre for international cooperation".


Mr. Sergio Páez, IPU Council President
"The IPU enjoys a certain notoriety, but it must make a greater mark on the international political scene"

Straight after being elected as President of the IPU Council, in September 2002, Chilean senator Sergio Páez paid a visit to the new IPU Headquarters. "The House of Parliaments is important" he commented "because it will be open to all parliaments of the world. These new premises will mean that we can organise large-scale meetings. The IPU enjoys a certain notoriety, but it must make a greater mark on the international political scene. All the parliaments associated with IPU must do their bit to publicise the vital role that the world organisation of parliaments is capable of playing. MPs visiting Geneva must know that there is a House of Parliaments that they can visit and where they can consult unique archives on everything to do with the daily life of parliaments".

Mr. Anders B. Johnsson, IPU Secretary General
"A new life for the Villa Gardiol and for the IPU"

The House of Parliaments will give a new lease of life not only to the Villa Gardiol but also, in a sense, to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Secretary General Anders Johnsson recalled that "during the first 113 years of its existence, the IPU was homeless since it never had its own headquarters. This is the first time it is really putting down roots in a city. It represents a new phase for the world organisation of parliaments which will doubtless be a productive one. It will put the organisation on the map, at the very heart of international Geneva. We will at last be able to hold meetings under our own roof, which is a major advantage. The project itself is evocative of the IPU since we are settling in a building that is almost as old as the organisation. We have added a modern annex, so the future of the organisation is represented as well."


Copyright © 2002 Inter-Parliamentary Union