Un-United Nations Headquarters – Winner Archiprix International 2019 and Archiprix Nl 2019

Underpinning logic of Un-United Nations Headquarters is that the unity is impossible as a stable (final) situation and ‘the political’ per definition implies (potential) conflict and therefore the need to debate.

Un-United Nations Headquarters : Neutral Ground for Discussing the Morality of Opposing Political Systems

Can you explain your choice of subject?
Following the Crimean annexation by Russia in 2014, families and friends where torn apart as they declared themselves either pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainie.
Being Ukrainian myself, and being proud of it, I attended a Russian school and speak Russian with my family. I never experienced any problems speaking Russian, people would talk back to me in Ukrainian. The conflict we’re facing wasn’t started by common people, it is created for the political reasons, and went out of control.
With Un-United Headquarters I want to show a different way of how history can evolve. At the same time I wanted to reflect on the wider political context, which relates to everyone. As our societies transform, our interac­tions within the world’s political arena also change. Conflicts have become increas­ingly more complex. They are now more visible than ever, and hardly ever just local but nowadays linked directly to global pol­itics. I wanted to investigate what kind of architecture can actually influence the decision-making for the good?

What or who are your sources of inspiration ?
My inspirations are many and come from everywhere. Suddenly I can see the connection between completely unconnected subjects – and get the feeling “this is it”. Therefore for me, it is not about “the one”, but about a narrative appearing between “many”.
I could name Gordon Matta-Clark as one of the inspiring figures for me. Who is he? Architect, artist, researcher, engineer…or? His works are bold and simultaneously rich statements. The precision behind the works makes his radical interventions contextual (his researches are unfortunately badly archived), and shows engagement of urban environments with its communities.

Can you appoint the key moment in your graduation project?
I was very lucky with my graduation commission consisting of great talents. Though, great talents have also different views. I remember a moment during one of my graduation meetings in which I received contradicting / opposing comments from my committee members. So it became this un-united commission. Each comment made sense in its own way. At that moment I understood more clearly than before to find my own way. It made me more conscious and precise about my choices.

The building performs as a dividing wall but acts as a gate through excavated links.

Project text
The research undertaken in this thesis examines the new opportunities emerging within the interlocking realms of politics and architecture. The author explores the role of architecture in absorbing the conflict situation and fostering its fruitfulness within the divided society.

The growth of the European Union and ambitions of the Russian Federation have turned the Crimean Peninsula into the greatest European geopolitical crisis since the Cold War. The following socio-political upheavals set the stage for a testing ground close to the origins and the inner world of the Ukrainian/Russian author. Could Crimea, instead of being a zone of avoidance it is now, become a driving force for the conflicting systems?

Site plan, building becomes a projection of the excavated street.

The project transforms the Sevastopol naval base, main cause of conflict, into a trade port, positioning Crimea as the gateway to Ukraine and Russia, and an architectural representation of Crimea’s new identity. An archetype that simultaneously represents dispute, trade and culture, is the Greek Agora. As a contemporary agora is introduced a counterpart to the UN Headquarters — Un-United Nations Headquarters. Underpinning logic of Un-United Nations Headquarters is that the unity is impossible as a stable (final) situation and ‘the political’ per definition implies (potential) conflict and therefore the need to debate. All outcomes of such debates are a temporary ‘solution’, which indicates that ‘temporariness’ is a crucial notion. Therefore instead of the utopian idea of stability, the project proposes a perpetual instability, a constant renegotiated temporariness. The heart of political institutions, the chamber, has become a decor for rehearsed dialogues, while all meaningful decisions take place in the informal spaces. The project evolves this political institution’s typology, proposing a ‘corridor-only’ model. The corridor is the practical space for negotiation and a symbol of the journey rather than the end result.

Plan: the building is created by street vertical multiplication

Un-UN is a neutral arena for disagreement, providing ground for the discussion on the morality of the opposed political systems. Un-UN is located next to Sevastopol bay, archeological site, founded on the ancient Greek city grid. The site quarters are filled with solidified in architecture and superimposed political regimes of diverse historical periods and nations. The grid itself has remained intact during the whole city’s existence. In order to eliminate captured underground the political systems agglomeration, the streets structure is excavated till its original level. Un-UN is positioned within the disclosed grid, where nothing was built before. A projection of the excavated street, the building portrays a contemporary democratic system with a vertical order, superimposed with the historical horizontal one. It complements the collection of various existing artifacts. Un-UN performs as a dividing wall but operates as a gate through its elevated position over the landscape. This gate builds relationships with both the Eastern and Western worlds.

Section: contemporary democratic system is placed over the historical horizontal

Jury rapport Archiprix International 2019:
Design thinking, a methodology that provides a solution-based approach to tackling complex problems, is used to relate design with politics. It is a strong project that intelligently tackles the agency of architecture on politics. The project is placed in a historical perspective and goes beyond actuality. The project is con-vincing in terms of scale and relationship with the landscape, ranging in scope and scale from global politics to a 1:1 facade detail. This is a mature and critical project.

Linear form allows one to experience the expansive horizon almost continuously

Lesia Topolnyk


When started graduating
September 2016

When finished graduating
January 2018

Amsterdam University of the Arts, Academy of Architecture

What are you doing now?
At the moment I am continuing research related to the subject of my graduation project, trying to find answers to the question, which came to my mind during writing my thesis. Simultaneously I work for MVRDV, a firm with strong society related ideas behind its work, which is of high importance to me. There I get many opportunities to explore a wide range of architecture related subjects. I would say it is a practice driven by educational platforms.

What hope / do you want to achieve as a designer in the near and / or in the distant future?
I would like to explore the relationship between politics and architecture as well as the results of its absence related to the formation of contexts. I see my thesis as an ongoing research that I also want to test in different countries and cultures.

Agree to disagree with Floris Alkemade