Work Un-United Nations Headquarters


Type: research and design
Function: counterpart to the UN Headquarters
Location: Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine
Year: 2018

The project examines the new opportunities emerging within the interlocking realms of politics and architecture. It explores the role architecture can play in absorbing conflict situations in a divided society. Not by aiming for a consensus but through mutual understanding for different world views.

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

“Aksyonov’s Crimean utopia was a fantasy, but somehow this island was able to build relations with both Soviet Russia and the Western world.”

Written in 1979, Vassily Aksyonov’s “The Island of Crimea” imagines an alternative history (abetted by alternative geography—Crimea is a peninsula).

With changes in our societies, media, family culture, educational institutions, economic and political systems have changed and our conflicts in the world political arena. Hugo de Groot was the first to describe the ‘Casus Belli' the act or event that is used to justify war. The assumption, on which the legislation of a war or conflict is based, is that you always can tell good from the bad. Whereas in current conflicts, and probably in all conflicts and in all times, everybody sees themselves as right and the other as wrong, but more and more often conflicts about the land involve not two, but more parties with opposing opinions.

United Headquarters, as a world peacekeeper confirms to have issues meeting demands of contemporary conflicts and changing political landscape, which is why there is a talk about the need for the creation of UN reforms and rapid reaction force.

Though how to act in a conflict situation where there are many opposing definitions of what is good?

Those hierarchical decisions hardly have any impact anymore. If we desire an end to a conflict, we must provide an arena where differences can be confronted.

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, hardly ever just local but nowadays linked directly to global politics. The United Nations, as the world’s peacekeeper, admits failure reacting to the challenge of contemporary conflicts and changes in the political landscape. Hierarchical decisions hardly have any impact anymore. This has lead to talks about the need for UN reforms, and the creation of a rapid reaction force. If we desire an end to a conflict, we must provide a neutral arena for conflict/disagreement.

Historically both trade and conflict have played a large role in creating a cultural exchange and fostering collective knowledge. An archetype, which simultaneously represents dispute, trade and culture, is the Greek Agora. As a combination of Crimean characteristics, a contemporary agora is introduced - a counterpart to the UN Headquarters - Un-United Nations Headquarters. Realizing the impossibility in ‘the political’ of stable (final) unity and the inevitability of potential conflicts, instead of the utopian idea of stability, this project proposes to use a perpetual instability, a constantly renegotiated temporariness. Un-UN is a neutral arena for disagreement, providing ground for the discussion on the morality of the opposed political systems.

Fruitfulness of conflict: The Greek agon emphasizes the importance of the struggle itself, a struggle that cannot exist without the opponent. Agonism implies deep respect and concern for the other.

During the historical times Crimea was positioned on the main trade and migration cross-roads from Asia to Europe and From Varagians to the Greeks. Today Crimea is positioned under the busiest air traffic. At the moment there are no international flights from Crimea.
Due to its prosperous geopolitical position, Crimea was always a conflict ground, but also an important link in trade routes.


The project transforms the Sevastopol naval base, the main cause of the conflict, into a trade port, positioning Crimea as the gateway to Ukraine and Russia and as an architectural representation of Crimea’s new identity. The Greek Agora is an archetype that simultaneously represents dispute, trade and culture. As a contemporary agora, the project introduces a counterpart to the UN headquarters, namely the Un-United Nations headquarters. The logic underlying the Un-UN HQ is that an enduring stable unity is impossible in the given situation so that debate is essential. All outcomes of such debate are temporary ‘solutions’, implying that temporariness is a crucial notion. So instead of the Utopian idea of stability, the project proposes a constant instability, a perpetual temporariness of renegotiation.

The heart of political institutions, the chamber, has become a decor for rehearsed dialogues, while all meaningful decisions take place in the informal spaces. This project develops this political institution typology using a ‘corridor-only’ model. The corridor is the practical space for negotiation and a symbol of the journey rather than of the destination. Un-UN is a neutral arena for settling disputes, providing ground for the discourse on the morality of opposing political systems.

The complex is located next to Sevastopol Bay, an archaeological site based on the ancient Greek city grid. The grounds are filled with solidified architecture whose stratification recalls the political regimes of diverse historical periods and nations. The grid itself has remained intact during the city’s entire existence. Un-UN is positioned within the disclosed grid above an excavated street. As a projection of that street, the vertically organized building portrays a contemporary democratic system superimposed on the historical horizontal layer. In this way, it complements the collection of existing artefacts.

The building acts as a dividing wall but operates as a gateway through its elevated position above the landscape with its passages created by historically exposed connections. This gateway builds relationships with both the Eastern and Western worlds.

Cross-section of the corridor-only model, the corridor as the infamous domain of informal but real decision-making. Un-United Nations represent a contemporary democratic system, with a vertical order, placed over the historical horizontal one. The building rests within the excavated city grid, where nothing has been constructed before.

Headquarters create a link between the harbor area, the Agora and hovers above the sea, creating views to the incoming ships. From a distance, Un-United Nations performs as a dividing wall. However, it acts as a gate through its elevated position over the landscape and with passageways created by excavated historical links. The building has two different faces. The long side is orientated towards the entrance of the trade port, creating a connection with the city.

Each facade of the building responds to its specific orientation and is based on the climatic conditions.

View of the land. The floor plan offers space for a series of, partly unforeseen, activities. From 24H discussion hall to World Art gallery, world library, spa, twitter chairs, etc. etc.

Linear form allows one to experience the expansive horizon almost continuously.

Movement in the building is always towards the water, while all the discussions are about the land. The structure of the building, its elevators, and its stairs are positioned outside of the corridor in order not to disturb “unlimited thoughts” situated between historical quarters.

South facade changes with weather conditions and functions behind it.



Lesia Topolnyk (StudioSpaceStation) is an architect, artist, researcher and film director. Raised within a constantly changing political environment and educated as an architect, explores how different realities superimpose in human behaviour and are manifested in physical space.

Through dialogue with different disciplines and mediums, spatial design becomes a language that gives shape to the crucial interaction of visible and invisible processes bringing together global and local concerns.

Founded to respond to the urgent societal and planetary issues, StudioSpaceStation operates across architecture, politics and art.

StudioSpaceStation is a satellite and invader simultaneously. It observes current and future affairs, manifesting resolutions through architecture as a solidified representation of dreams and ideas. StudioSpaceStation provides a vessel for discussion, emergent from critical thinking through perpetual evolvement and experimentation.

Honors & Awards

2023 - IABR Agent of Change
2023 - Financieele Dagblad Top 50 Talent 2023
2022 - Winner Prix de Rome (The oldest and most prestigious prize for talented artists and architects in the Netherlands)
2020 - Talent Grant, Creative Industries, Netherlands
2020 - Young Talent Architecture Award, nomination (by the Fundació Mies van der Rohe and the EU Commission)
2019 - Winner Archiprix Nederland
2019 - Winner Archiprix International
2019 - Winner Tamayouz International Award

Selected Exhibitions

2022 - Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam
2022 - Architecture Triennale, Lisbon
2022 - New European Bauhaus, Brussels
2021 - Dutch Design Week
2021 - Biennale, Venice
2020 - Dutch Design Week
2019 - Biennale, Santiago
2019 - Archiprix International
2019 - Archiprix Netherlands

Clients & Funds

Atelier Rijksbouwmeester, Gemeente Rotterdam, Rotterdam Maritiem Museum, Creative Industries NL, Mondriaan Fund, Archiprix, Stichting Oude Groninger Kerken, International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR), gemeente 's-Hertogenbosch

Portrait Prix de Rome 2022

'Lesia Topolnyk is an architect who focuses on a broader interpretation of her field. She is interested in the potential of her profession within our constructed reality – not necessarily in building things. 'It's about ideas that take shape during the research and design process which generate new typologies,' she says. For her, it's not enough to shape the world reactively, or in line with what already exists. She explains: 'Although architects are seen as people who design spaces, we also design relationships. Especially in these turbulent political times, it's necessary to look at how the world is designed to understand the larger context in which a project is taking place. I sometimes reflect on major problems at a global level, while other times I focus on the space inside someone's mind.'

Topolnyk grew up in Ukraine, and addressed the situation in Crimea with her final project at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam. She created a proposal for a building that consisted primarily of corridors – places where discussions and interactions occur that ultimately have the greatest influence on the decisions being made. Continuous mediation of the situation was central to this concept. The architecture symbolised and supported the mental capacity of those involved. In this endless network of hallways, which reference the agora, visitors could have endless discussions which allowed for a continuous debate; politics is an ongoing conversation. Similarly, her own vision of architecture and her process of research and design focuses on conversation, contributions from different positions, and the involvement of people with a wide range of expertise. She therefore frequently collaborates with people who work in different fields. Because 'you can learn from others and they bring valuable insights and viewpoints...'

Her current research is focused on the various crises humanity is currently facing, with a special interest in political systems and the significance of democracy, including its Greek foundations. She is exploring how this form of government was historically designed and how architecture supported and portrayed it. 'It's about how we can shape change and how we can manage the world better together,' she concludes. Architecture can play a role in that by offering design solutions that support the decision-making process.'

Text: Vincent van Velsen

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