WHO, headquarters, Geneva

Masterplan for optimizing WHO’s working environment with a focus on collaboration and cultural diversity


Workplace design


Geneva, Switzerland






71,000 m²


WHO, World Health Organization



PLH won the competition for a new workplace design concept, sponsored by WHO as part of its strategy to revitalize headquarters in Geneva. The design concept – “spices of the world” – is inspired by the vast blend of nationalities employed at WHO. Following the initial competition, PLH developed a master plan for the proposed refurbishment of headquarter facilities.

The facility comprises several buildings of varying age and condition. The most significant one is the main building by Jean Tschumi which is a strong late modernist building with some striking interior spaces, such as the main arrival level and general assembly hall. However, like the other buildings, it lacks the flexibility to respond to the dynamic nature of WHO today.

Paulette Christophersen
+ 45 2464 7133

PLH undertook a highly interactive briefing process that included over 100 interviews, open door sessions and staff presentations to establish the overall needs at an organisational level and the day to day needs of the programs and users. As HQ is a cross-road for WHO’s global activities, this meant considering both the cultural and functional needs of users beyond those permanently residing in Geneva.
The output of the briefing phase was a masterplan for the refurbishment of HQ’s facilities including a generic concept plan for the main buildings.

The overall design response was to convert the existing cellular, enclosed and congested planning to an open working environment that optimizes daylight in the building and encourages collaboration across the clusters. There is a balance of private zones for permanent team workplaces, and communal zones for cafés, break spaces and communication lounges. Workspace areas are subdivided into smaller neighbourhoods in order to create a comfortable sized working area.

Various blocking and stacking scenarios were developed to show how the organisation could fit into the buildings and adapt over time in response to program needs. This included a review of the location of core central functions to create a better heart or village square for the overall complex. In addition, budget estimates were prepared to assist in the funding process for the project.