urbz was selected on the basis of an international call for tenders to support the ICRC in its effort to upgrade its HQ and turn it into a humanitarian campus with strong links to the city and smooth access for pedestrians and cyclists. We have been following a radically participatory approach to produce a comprehensive plan to encompass all aspects of workspaces at the ICRC in Geneva. This project, which started in 2021, is still ongoing and involves the urbz Geneva and Mumbai teams.
Four Nobel Peace Prizes
The ICRC, which was born in Geneva 160 years ago, is one of the most respected organizations in the world. It has won three Nobel Peace Prizes, plus one which was given to the Red Cross founder Henry Dunant. Its fundamental principles are Humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality. Its international staff comes with the help of local populations in the most vulnerable and dangerous places in the world. In the face of war, it responds with humanity, taking care of those wounded and vulnerable, independent of which side of the conflict they are on. It visits prisoners of war ensuring that their treatment is humane. It helps families search for missing members in conflict zones, protects civilian populations, and acts as a neutral intermediary between conflicting parties. It is entrusted by the United Nations to monitor compliance with the international humanitarian law founded on the Geneva Convention.
It is a huge honor for the urbz team to be contributing to the mission of the ICRC, whose values we fully connect with, through our participatory urban design work.
The Hill of Pregny in Geneva
The ICRC HQ is located on the Colline de Pregny (hill of Pregny) in Geneva’s international quarters (Jardin des Nations). It enjoys a unique view of the UN, the lake, and the Alps. The Jardin des Nations is one of the fastest developing zones in Geneva, with the construction of new offices, housing, services, and transportation infrastructure.
The ICRC HQ has developed incrementally over the years, in response to the need of the moment. Writer Joelle Kuntz has described the ICRC offices as an architecture of emergency. The buildings must now be adapted to current and future needs and environmental standards. Moreover, new collaborative spaces must be put in for the library, events, workshops, and hybrid teamwork.
A Shared Vision
The consultation of a large range of ICRC staff (in Geneva and around the world) has highlighted the need to provide better access and navigation for employees and visitors to improve the availability and quality of common spaces, create an environment that is welcoming to all staff, including colleagues on a short stay in Geneva, and to create a site that is greener and conducive to formal and informal interactions with a broad range of partners.
The organization-wide consultation generated a shared vision, which calls for a site that is inclusive, and reflective of the diversity of all staff, fostering a sense of well-being and belonging. New types of workspaces are needed, ranging from collaborative team spaces to focused individual work, inspired by the lessons learned from the Covid experience. It acknowledges the role of social and recreational spaces as well as event spaces in the creation of a productive and healthy workplace.
A Comprehensive Plan
The Comprehensive Plan differs from a "master plan" in the sense that it is not planned from above but is participatory in nature. Moreover, it goes well beyond spatial considerations to include organizational, technological, and cultural dynamics. The plan reflects the ongoing organisational shift from a top-down decision-making structure to a context-driven, integrative, and collaborative culture. The plan is produced through a process that involves hundreds of collaborators at all levels of the organisation through interviews, focus groups, workshops, presentations, and in situ discussions.
The comprehensive plan aims at enhancing the well-being and working conditions of the staff by providing more convivial and functional spaces, as well as better access by foot, cycle, or public transportation. It aims at minimizing the impact of the future 'Route des Nations' through a series of infrastructural measures in and around the site.
It preserves the site’s openness while making it more secure, green, and sustainable. Hybrid workspaces and hospitable shared spaces are intended to bring Geneva closer to the field and become more welcoming to those coming for training, workshops, and briefing.
The plan reasserts the centrality of the ICRC in Geneva’s international ecosystem and intends to provide a sense of belonging for all ICRC staff, and visitors.