After 60 years of meditation – Hammarskjöld´s benches show their age

A small crowd gathered in front of the General Assembly Building waiting with bated breath for a van holding precious cargo.

The Swedish Mission, led by Anna Karin Eneström, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations, came to improve a piece of UN history: The Meditation Room.

A van pulled up, and the new benches arrived.  

In 1957, a full renovation of the Meditation Room was championed by former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld. The renewed space was then gifted by Sweden, alongside Friends of the UN Meditation Room, and Marshall Field Foundation.

In the brochure distributed at the opening of the room, Dag Hammarskjöld said, “…we have within us a centre of stillness surrounded by silence.  This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room this dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.”

Part of this renovation was the installation of meditation benches, personally selected by Dag Hammarskjöld.

These benches were originally designed by Carl Malmsten and manufactured by the furniture company Tre Sekel in Tibro, Västergötland, Sweden.

The solid oak benches are topped with a dried seagrass native to the Baltic Sea.

60 years of meditation

After standing there dutifully for 60 years, they began to show their age.  

In 2021, great care has been taken to replace the benches. Identical pieces have been created by the same manufacturer from original designs, using the same materials and techniques from their first iteration.

The gifted benches were brought to the United Nations due to the generosity of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and the dedication of Sweden.

And, so it was, on a warm October afternoon, that Ms. Eneström picked up a bench and carried it to the waiting arms of Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atul Khare.

His warm remarks on the vitality of the relationship between Sweden and the United Nations filled the lobby of the General Assembly Building as benches were placed – one by one – within the reverent centre of stillness cultivated by the late Dag Hammarskjöld.