London, Nov.25 : The Palais des Nations is the U.N.'s European headquarters, and is now in need of a major facelift.
But hold your breath, according to Director General Sergei Ordzhonikidze, who heads the U.N. Office at Geneva, it will cost a billion dollars to rebuild the palace that is flanked by the Swiss Alps to the west and Lake Geneva to the east, besides the pristine, 111-acre Ariana Park that surrounds it.
Seventy-year-old wiring, fire hazards and miles of rusty pipes that have flooded the archives repeatedly plague this onetime home to the League of Nations. Asbestos lines some of the walls, and the roof is in danger of caving in.
But critics say it's not worth a cool billion to preserve a diplomatic palace. They say new offices could be built for less, and the money could be spent to heal the sick and feed the hungry.
For a billion dollars, a firm could build 407,244 square meters of office space in Geneva. That's one and a half times the size of the Empire State Building, and five times the size of the main building at the Palais des Nations.
A comparable building in the U.S. would cost about 228 dollars per square foot, according to Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects.
"We are extremely conscious that our mandate is not to do renovations for the pleasure of renovations. This is not our purpose," said Marie Heuze, chief spokeswoman for the U.N. Office at Geneva.
Heuze said the buildings are a storehouse of history and stand as a symbol of international cooperation. Every year about 100,000 visitors come to the palace, where tours are led in 15 languages.
Heuze told FOXNews.com that the director general's figure isn't on the U.N. budget yet and is an estimate that would have to be evaluated by a team of architects.
Any major work on the Palais would likely come after the 1.9 billion dollars renovation of the U.N.'s New York headquarters is complete.