Design 1912. Sammlung: Schlossmuseum Nidau. Foto/Photo: TES

The Mundaneum and Geneva

What do Google, the Mundaneum and a new World City near Geneva have in common?

The Mundaneum

The story begins at the end of the nineteenth century in Belgium. Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and Henri la Fontaine (1854-1943) wanted to found a World Library for all books, iconography, newspapers, magazines and all other writings.

This library came into being in 1920. It was called Mundaneum. The Mundaneum was housed in the Parc du Cinquantenaire (Jubelpark) in Brussels and occupied one hundred rooms for many kilometres of paper.

This library still exists and is a universal bibliographic centre today. UNESCO recognised the Mundaneum as a World Heritage Site in 2013. The Mundaneum moved to Mons (Bergen) in 1998.

The Mundaneum is called the internet of paper and the predecessor of Google. Google supports the project financially. 

Mundaneum in Mons. Photo: www,


The sculptor, painter and urban planner Hendrik C. Anderson (1872-1940) and the architect, urban planner and archaeologist Ernest Hébrard (1875-1933) developed a plan in 1913 to build a world city.

This city was the centre of international communication and dispute resolution for the sake 0f peace and prosperity. All peoples and countries were to be represented.

The founders of the Mundaneum supported the project. The Three Lakes region in Switzerland (the area of the lakes of Neuchâtel (Neuenburgersee), Biel (Bienne) and Murten (Morat) and Brussels in emerged as location options.

Then came the first of August 1914, and the plan was off the table. However, after the end of the First World War (1914-1918), the League of Nations and its headquarters in Geneva gave new hope.

In 1927, Paul Otlet approached the architect Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, 1887-1965) to design a new plan for the city near Geneva. Then came the stock market crisis of 1929 and the subsequent economic and political crises and tensions.

Statues at the entry of the City. Collection Schlossmuseum Nidau. Photo: TES.

The world city never got any further than the design on paper. The entrance to the metropolis bears the stylistic hallmarks of the time. The city, symmetrically built according to a strict grid pattern (as in La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle in the canton of Neuchâtel), had a 320-metre tower. This tower symbolised human progress.

However, it became a Tower of Babel due to the Second World War (1939-1945) and the Cold War. After 1945 and the death of the founders of the Mundaneum, the project for the metropolis was abandoned.

(Source: Schlossmuseum Nidau: