UNESCO Lights Up Its Paris Headquarters With A Message Of Peace

The UN Agency had a giant light show planned for tonight, but scrambled to add a message of hope to Paris and the world.

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, the Eiffel tower went dark as a sign of mourning. Another monument in Paris lit up with a positive affirming message: “Peace”–written in the UN’s six official languages, including French and Arabic.


The display, visible for miles around the city, was projected onto UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris through the night of November 14, the day after the attacks. It comes as the world grapples with and recalculates its response to ISIS, as well as the continuing flood of refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq, and as France sent jets to strike ISIS targets in Syria.

“This serves as a reminder for us to turn our attention to the basic principles that drive the international community toward a just world, along the lines of UNESCO’s motto ‘We must construct the defenses of peace in the minds of women and men,'” the UN agency said in a statement.

The agency was able to put together the beautiful display in just one day because it actually had already planned a special large-scale visual project show for the evening of November 16, in honor of its own 70th anniversary.

It made the decision to still going forward with that project, with a live stream of the event (view here) starting at 8:30 p.m. in Paris (2:30 p.m. ET). The show’s visual narrative spans UNESCO’s history from 1945 to 2015, with a finale focused “on imagining peace.” The “World Orchestra for Peace” made up of 40 musicians from 20 countries will perform a musical score derived from UNESCO’s archival collection dedicated to those lives lost on Friday.

UNESCO is a UN agency that promotes education, scientific, and cultural collaboration as a means of achieving peace and justice throughout the world. Its name is probably most well-known in connection to its list of more than 1,000 World Heritage sites of cultural or physical importance. ISIS has specifically targeted some of those sites in territory that it has captured, such as ruins in the ancient city of Palmyra. In August, it publicly beheaded the 82-year-old professor, Khaled al-As’ad, who had for decades led in the preservation of its many treasures.

The display and “storytelling platform,” called Mosaic of Change, was curated by Millennium ART, sponsored by the Li Ka Shing Foundation, and uses technology from the San Francisco company Obscura Digital. The latter two were also involved with a projection project last summer on the Empire State Building.


“In our visual world, a single photo can turn the tide on policy and one great quote can impact perception,” says a press release about the project. Hopefully, the inspiring photos of people rising together will have a greater impact than the photos of death and destruction that are dominating today’s headlines.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.