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UN headquarters

This article is about the physical offices of the United Nations in New York City. For the organization itself, see United Nations.

East River in May 2006.
United Nations Headquarters
Location within New York City
General information
Architectural style International Style
Location New York City
(International territory)
Address 760 United Nations Plaza, New York, New York 10017, United States
Coordinates

40°44′58″N 73°58′5″W / 40.74944°N 73.96806°W / 40.74944; -73.96806Coordinates: 40°44′58″N 73°58′5″W / 40.74944°N 73.96806°W / 40.74944; -73.96806

Construction started 1948 (1948)[1]
Completed 9 October 1952 (1952-10-09)[1]
Cost $65,000,000
Owner United Nations
Height 155 metres (509 ft)[1]
Technical details
Floor count 39[1]
Design and construction
Architect Oscar Niemeyer
Le Corbusier
Harrison & Abramovitz
Main contractor [Fuller, Turner, Slattery, and Walsh]

The headquarters of the United Nations is a complex in New York City. The complex has served as the official headquarters of the United Nations since its completion in 1952. It is located in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of the borough of Manhattan, on spacious grounds overlooking the East River. Its borders are First Avenue on the west, East 42nd Street to the south, East 48th Street on the north and the East River to the east.[2] 'Turtle Bay' is occasionally used as a metonym for the U.N. headquarters or for the U.N. as a whole.[3]

The United Nations has three additional, subsidiary, regional headquarters or headquarter districts. These are located in Geneva (Switzerland), Vienna (Austria), and Nairobi (Kenya).[4] These adjunct offices help represent UN interests, facilitate diplomatic activities, and enjoy certain extraterritorial privileges, but only the main headquarters in New York contains the seats of the principal organs of the UN, including the General Assembly and Security Council. All fifteen of the United Nations' specialized agencies are located outside New York at these other headquarters or in other cities.

Although it is situated in New York City, the land occupied by the United Nations Headquarters and the spaces of buildings that it rents are under the sole administration of the United Nations. They are technically extraterritorial through a treaty agreement with the U.S. government. However, in exchange for local police and fire protection and other services, the U.N. agrees to acknowledge most local, state, and federal laws.[5]

The United Nations Headquarters complex was constructed in stages with the core complex completed between 1948-1952. The Headquarters occupies a site beside the East River, on 17 acres (69,000 m2) of land purchased from the foremost New York real estate developer of the time, William Zeckendorf, Sr. Nelson Rockefeller arranged this purchase, after an initial offer to locate it on the Rockefeller family estate of Kykuit was rejected as being too isolated from Manhattan. The US$8.5 million purchase was then funded by his father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated it to the city.[6] Wallace Harrison, the personal architectural adviser for the Rockefeller family, and a prominent corporate architect, served as the Director of Planning for the United Nations Headquarters. His firm, Harrison and Abramovitz, oversaw the execution of the design.[7]

Planning and construction

Rather than hold a competition for the design of the facilities for the headquarters, the UN decided to commission a multinational team of leading architects to collaborate on the design. The American architect Wallace K. Harrison was named as Director of Planning, and a Board of Design Consultants was composed of architects, planners and engineers nominated by member governments. The board consisted of N. D. Bassov of the Soviet Union, Gaston Brunfaut (Belgium), Ernest Cormier (Canada), Le Corbusier (France), Liang Seu-cheng (China), Sven Markelius (Sweden), Oscar Niemeyer (Brazil), Howard Robertson (United Kingdom), G. A. Soilleux (Australia), and Julio Vilamajó (Uruguay).[8]

The property was originally a slaughter house before the donation took place. While the United Nations had dreamed of constructing an independent city for its new world capital, multiple obstacles soon forced the Organization to downsize their plans. The diminutive site on the East River necessitated a "Rockefeller Center" type vertical complex, thus, it was a given that the Secretariat would be housed in a tall office tower. During daily meetings from February to June 1947, the collaborative team produced at least 45 designs and variations. After much discussion, Harrison, who coordinated the meetings, determined that a design based on Niemeyer's project 32 and Le Corbusier's project 23 would be developed for the final project. Le Corbusier's project 23 consisted of a large block containing both the Assembly Hall and the Council Chambers near the centre of the site with the Secretariat tower emerging as a slab from the south. Niemeyer's plan was closer to that actually constructed, with a distinctive General Assembly building, a long low horizontal block housing the other meeting rooms, and a tall tower for the Secretariat. The complex as built, however, repositioned Niemeyer's General Assembly building to the north of this tripartite composition. This plan included a public plaza as well. Le Corbusier and Niemeyer merged their schemes 23–32, and this, along with suggestions from the other members of the Board of Design Consultants, was developed into project 42G. This late project was built with some reductions and other modifications.[9]

Per an agreement with the city, the buildings met some but not all local fire safety and building codes. The office of the Secretary-General is on the 38th floor.

Construction on the initial buildings began in 1948, with the cornerstone laid on 24 October 1949,[8] and was completed in 1952. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library Building, designed by Harrison and Abramovitz, was added in 1961. The construction of the headquarters was financed by an interest-free loan of $65 million made by the United States government, and the cost of construction was also reported as $65 million.[10]

Proposed alternatives

Many cities vied for the honor of hosting the U.N. Headquarters site, prior to the selection of New York City. The selection of the East River site came after over a year of protracted study and consideration of many sites in the United States. A powerful faction among the delegates advocated returning to the former League of Nations complex in Geneva, Switzerland.[11] Suggestions came from far and wide including such fanciful suggestions as a ship on the high seas to housing the entire complex in a single tall building. Amateur architects submitted designs, local governments offered park areas, but the determined group of New York boosters that included such luminaries as Grover Whalen, Thomas J. Watson, and Nelson Rockefeller, coordinated efforts with the powerful Coordinator of Construction, Robert Moses and Mayor William O'Dwyer, to assemble acceptable interim facilities. Their determined courtship of the U.N. Interim Site committee resulted in the early meetings taking place at multiple locations throughout the New York area. Sites in San Francisco (including the Presidio), Marin County, Philadelphia, Boston, Fairfield County, CT, Westchester County, NY, and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, were among those sites given serious consideration before Manhattan was finally selected. The Manhattan site was selected after John D. Rockefeller, Jr. offered to donate $8.5 million to purchase the land.


In 1945–6, London hosted the first meeting of the General Assembly in Methodist Central Hall, and the Security Council in Church House. The third and sixth General Assembly sessions, in 1948 and 1951, met in the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. Prior to the construction of the current complex, the UN was headquartered at a temporary location at the Sperry Corporation's offices in Lake Success, New York, an eastern suburb of the city in Nassau County on Long Island, from 1946–1952.[12] The Security Council also held sessions on what was then the Bronx campus of Hunter College (now the site of Lehman College) from March to August 1946.[13][14] The UN also met at what is now the New York City Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair site. The General Assembly met at what is now the ice skating rink,[15] and the Long Island Rail Road reopened the former World's Fair station as United Nations station.[16]

Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer

Right after his arrival in New York, Oscar Niemeyer met with Le Corbusier at his request. Le Corbusier had already been lobbying hard to promote his own scheme 23, and thus, requested that Niemeyer not submit a design, lest he further confuse the contentious meetings of the Board of Design. Instead, he asked the younger architect to assist him with his project. Niemeyer began to absent himself from the meetings. Only after Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz repeatedly pressed him to participate, did Niemeyer agree to submit his own project.

45 designs were evaluated by the team, and Niemeyer's project 32 was finally chosen. As opposed to Corbusier’s project 23, which consisted of one building containing both the Assembly Hall and the councils in the centre of the site (as it was hierarchically the most important building), Niemeyer's plan split the councils from the Assembly Hall, locating the first alongside the river, and the second on the right side of the secretariat. This would not split the site, but on the contrary, would create a large civic square.

Wallace Harrison's assistant, architect George Dudley, later stated:

It literally took our breath away to see the simple plane of the site kept open from First Avenue to the River, only three structures on it, standing free, a fourth lying low behind them along the river’s edge. ...He [Niemeyer] also said, ‘beauty will come from the buildings being in the right space!’. The comparison between Le Corbusier’s heavy block and Niemeyer’s startling, elegantly articulated composition seemed to me to be in everyone’s mind...[17]

Later on, Corbusier came once again to Niemeyer and asked him to reposition the Assembly Hall back to the centre of the site. Such modification would destroy Niemeyer’s plans for a large civic square. However, he finally decided to accept the modification:

I felt he [Corbusier] would like to do his project, and he was the master. I do not regret my decision.[18]

Together, they submitted the scheme 23–32, which was built and is what can be seen today.

International character


The site of the United Nations Headquarters has extraterritoriality status.[19] This affects some law enforcement where UN rules override the laws of New York City, but it does not give immunity to those who commit crimes there. In addition, the United Nations Headquarters remains under the jurisdiction and laws of the United States, although a few members of the UN staff have diplomatic immunity and so cannot be prosecuted by local courts unless the diplomatic immunity is waived by the Secretary-General. In 2005, Secretary-General Kofi Annan waived the immunity of Benon Sevan, Aleksandr Yakovlev, and Vladimir Kuznetsov in relation to the Oil-for-Food Programme.[20] All have been charged in the U.S. Federal Court of New York, except for Kofi Annan's own son, who was also implicated in the scandal. Benon Sevan later fled the U.S. to Cyprus, while Aleksandr Yakovlev and Vladimir Kuznetsov decided to stand trial.

The currency in use at the United Nations headquarters' businesses is the U.S. dollar. English and French are the working languages of the United Nations Secretariat; most of the daily communication within secretariat and most of the signs in the UN headquarters building are in English and French. English, French and Spanish are the working languages of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); and Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish are working and official languages of the General Assembly.

The complex has a street address of United Nations Headquarters, New York, NY 10017, USA. For security reasons, all mail sent to this address is sterilized, so items that may be degraded can be sent by courier.[21] The United Nations Postal Administration issues stamps, which must be used on stamped mail sent from the building. Journalists, when reporting from the complex, often use "United Nations" rather than "New York" as the identification of their location in recognition of the extraterritoriality status.[22]

For award purposes, amateur radio operators consider it a separate "entity", and for communications the UN has its own internationally recognized ITU prefix, 4U.

Structures

The complex includes a number of major buildings. While the Secretariat building is most predominantly featured in depictions of the headquarters, it also includes the domed General Assembly building, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, as well as the Conference and Visitors Center, which is situated between the General Assembly and Secretariat buildings, and can be seen only from FDR Drive or the East River. Just inside the perimeter fence of the complex stands a line of flagpoles where the flags of all 193 UN member states, plus the U.N. flag, are flown in English alphabetical order.[23]


The General Assembly building holds the General Assembly Hall which has a seating capacity of 1,800. At 165 ft (50 m) long by 115 ft (35 m) wide, it is the largest room in the complex. The Hall has two murals by the French artist Fernand Léger. At the front of the chamber, is the rostrum containing the green marble desk for the President of the General Assembly, Secretary-General and Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services and matching lectern for speakers.[8] Behind the rostrum is the UN emblem on a gold background.[24] Flanking the rostrum is a paneled semi-circular wall that tapers as it nears the ceiling and surrounds the front portion of the chamber. In front of the paneled walls are seating areas for guests and within the wall are windows which allow translators to watch the proceedings as they work. The ceiling of the hall is 75 ft (23 m) high and surmounted by a shallow dome ringed by recessed light fixtures. The General Assembly Hall was last altered in 1980 when capacity was increased to accommodate the increased membership. Each of the 192 delegations has six seats in the hall with three at a desk and three alternate seats behind them.[8]

The Conference Building faces the East River between the General Assembly Building and the Secretariat. The Conference Building holds the Security Council Chamber, which was a gift from Norway and was designed by the Norwegian architect Arnstein Arneberg. The oil canvas mural depicting a phoenix rising from its ashes by Norwegian artist Per Krogh hangs at the front of the room.[21]

The 39-story Secretariat tower houses offices for the Secretary General, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel,[25] the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Office of Disarmament Affairs,[26] and the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM).[27]

The Dag Hammarskjöld Library was dedicated on 16 November 1961. The building was a gift from the Ford Foundation and is located next to the Secretariat at the southwest corner of the headquarters campus. The library holds 400,000 books, 9,800 newspapers and periodical titles, 80,000 maps and the Woodrow Wilson Collection containing 8,600 volumes of League of Nations documents and 6,500 related books and pamphlets. The library's Economic and Social Affairs Collection is housed in the DC-2 building.[28]

Art at the United Nations

The complex is also notable for its gardens and outdoor sculptures. Iconic sculptures include the "Knotted Gun," called Non-Violence, a statue of a Colt Python revolver with its barrel tied in a knot, which was a gift from the Luxembourg government[29] and "Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares", a gift from the Soviet Union.[30] The latter sculpture is the only appearance of the "swords into plowshares" quotation, from Isaiah 2:4, within the complex. Contrary to popular belief, the quotation is not carved on any UN building.[31] Rather, it is carved on the "Isaiah Wall" of Ralph Bunche Park across First Avenue. A piece of the Berlin Wall also stands in the U.N. garden.[32]

Other prominent artworks on the grounds include a Marc Chagall stained glass window memorializing the death of Dag Hammarskjöld,[33] the Japanese Peace Bell which is rung on the vernal equinox and the opening of each General Assembly session,[34] a Chinese ivory carving made in 1974 (before the ivory trade was largely banned in 1989),[35] and a Venetian mosaic depicting Norman Rockwell's painting The Golden Rule.[36] A tapestry copy of Pablo Picasso's Guernica on the wall of the United Nations building at the entrance to the Security Council room.[37] In 1952, two Léger murals were installed in the General Assembly Hall. The works are meant to merely be decorative with no symbolism. One is said to resemble cartoon character Bugs Bunny and US President Harry S. Truman dubbed the other work Scrambled Eggs.[38]

Two huge murals by Brazilian artist Cândido Portinari, entitled Guerra e Paz (War and Peace) are located at the delegates hall. The works are a gift from the United Nations Association of the United States of America and Portinari intended to execute them in the US. However, he was denied a visa due to his communist convictions and decided to paint them in Rio de Janeiro. They were later assembled in the headquarters. After their completion in 1957, Portinari, who was already ill when he started the masterpiece, succumbed to lead poisoning from the pigments his doctors advised him to abandon.[39]

Other buildings

While outside of the complex, the headquarters also includes two large office buildings that serve as offices for the agencies and programmes of the organization. These buildings, known as DC-1 and DC-2 are located at 1 and 2 UN Plaza respectively. DC1 was built in 1976. There is also an identification office at the corner of 46th Street, inside a former bank branch, where pre-accredited diplomats, reporters, and others receive their grounds passes. UNICEF House (3 UN Plaza) and the UNITAR Building (807 UN Plaza) are also part of headquarters. In addition, the Church Center for the United Nations (777 UN Plaza) is a private building owned by the United Methodist Church as an interfaith space housing the offices of several non-governmental organizations. The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is located at 380 Madison Avenue.[40]

Renovation

The headquarter's buildings have come to need extensive renovation, including the need to install sprinklers, fix leaks, and the removal of asbestos.

On 28 July 2007, UN officials announced the complex would undergo a $1 billion renovation starting in the fall. Swedish firm Skanska AB won a bid to overhaul the buildings which will include the Conference, General Assembly and Secretariat buildings. The renovations, which will be the first since the complex opened in 1950, are expected to take about 7 years to complete. When completed the complex is also expected to be more energy efficient and have improved security.[41] Work began on 5 May 2008 but the project was delayed for a while.[42] By 2009, the cost of the work had risen from $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion with some estimates saying it will take up to $3 billion[43] Officials hope the renovated buildings will achieve a LEED Silver rating. Despite some delays and rises in construction costs, renovation on the entire UN headquarters is progressing rapidly. As of 2012, the installation of the new glass facade of the Secretariat Building is completed. The new glass wall will retain the look of the original facade but it will be more energy efficient. The renovation of the Secretariat building has been complete and the UN staff moved into the new building in July 2012.[44][45]

Alternative sites were considered as temporary holding locations during renovations. In 2005, officials investigated establishing a new temporary site be created at the old Lake Success location. Brooklyn was also suggested as a temporary site.[46] Another alternative for a temporary headquarters or a new permanent facility was the World Trade Center site.[47] Once again, these plans met resistance both within the UN and from the US and New York governments and were abandoned.[48]

Expansion

In October 2011, New York City and New York State officials announced an agreement in which the UN would be allowed to build a long-sought new office tower adjacent to the existing campus on the current Robert Moses Playground, which would be relocated.[49] In exchange, the United Nations would allow the construction of an esplanade along the East River that would complete the East River Greenway, a waterfront pedestrian and bicycle pathway.[50] While host nation authorities have agreed to the provisions of the plan, it needs the approval of the United Nations in order to be implemented. The plan is similar in concept to an earlier proposal that had been announced in 2000 but did not move forward.[51]

In popular culture

Due to its role in international politics, the United Nations Headquarters is often featured in movies and other pop culture. The only film actually shot on location in the UN headquarters is The Interpreter (2005), filmed with the consent of the Secretary-General,[52] although some scenes in the political documentary film U. N. Me were surreptitiously filmed inside the building without permission. When he was unable to obtain permission to film in the UN Headquarters, director Alfred Hitchcock covertly filmed Cary Grant arriving for the 1959 feature North by Northwest. After the action within the building, another scene shows Grant leaving across the plaza looking down from the building's roof. This was created using a painting.[53] The final Roadblock of the 21st season of the American version of The Amazing Race also took place inside the gates of this building and had teams associating national flags with the different "hellos" and "goodbyes" they heard during the race. The building is seen in the 2008 game Grand Theft Auto IV, but called the Civilization Committee Building (CC).

Public gatherings

Large scale protests, demonstrations, and other gatherings directly on First Avenue are rare. Some gatherings have taken place in Ralph Bunche Park, but it is too small to accommodate large demonstrations. The closest location where the New York City Police Department usually allows demonstrators is Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza at 47th Street and First Avenue,[54] one block away from the visitors' entrance, four blocks away from the entrance used by top-level diplomats, and five blocks away from the general staff entrance.

Excluding gatherings solely for diplomats and academics, there are a few organizations which regularly hold events at the UN. The United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA), a non-governmental organization, holds an annual "member's day" event in one of the conference rooms. Model United Nations conferences sponsored by UNA-USA, the National Collegiate Conference Association (NCCA/NMUN), and the International Model UN Association (IMUNA/NHSMUN) hold part of their sessions in the General Assembly chamber. Seton Hall University's Whitehead School of Diplomacy hosts its UN summer study program at the headquarters as well.[55]

Relocation proposals

Due to the significance of the organisation, proposals and offers to relocate the Headquarters buildings would surface now and then. Common complaints about its current location include diplomats who struggle to obtain U.S. visas and local residents complaining about inconveniences each time the roads are sealed due to visiting dignitaries. A telephone poll in 2001 found that 67% of callers were in favor of the U.N. moving out of the country.[56] Countries critical of the United States, such as Iran, are especially vocal in questioning the current location of the buildings in U.S. territory.[57]

In 2001, Dmitriy Rogozin proposed moving the headquarters to St. Petersburg due to America's failure to pay its dues to the U.N., saying "If the position of the Americans does not change and if as a result the international civil servants working in New York feel ever more uncomfortable, I think we will raise the question of moving the central U.N. headquarters to the 'Venice of the North,' St. Petersburg,"[58] During the period where the U.N. was facing delays in its efforts to refurbish its existing buildings, alternative sites considered as temporary sites also included the World Trade Center site being proposed as a new permanent facility.[47]

Some governments have offered potential sites should the U.N. decide to move. In 2007, La Presse reported that the Canadian government, along with provincial and municipal authorities, proposed Montreal as a site to move the headquarters; a former docklands site has been earmarked and preliminary drawings made, but the U.N. turned down the request in 2007 and opted to renovate its existing facilities instead.[59] In 2010, The Dubai government offered Dubai as an ideal venue due to its proximity to international "trouble spots".[60]

See also

Notes

External links

  • UN Visitors Centre
  • UN: Building an International Headquarters in New York – historical overview, on the UN 60th Anniversary webpage
  • Agreement Establishing the UN headquarters – with information on legal status
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