United Nations Headquarters in New York City
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 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. Turtle Bay is occasionally used as a metonym for the U.N. headquarters or for the U.N. as a whole.
The United Nations has three additional, subsidiary, regional headquarters or headquarter districts. These are located in Geneva (Switzerland), Vienna (Austria), and Nairobi (Kenya). 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 15 of the United Nation's specialized agencies are located outside New York at these other headquarters or in other cities.
Though it is in New York City, and part of the United States, the land used by the United Nations Headquarters is under the administration of the United Nations, while also being subject to most local, state, and federal laws. For award purposes, Amateur radio operators consider it a separate "entity", and for communications the UN has its own internationally recognized ITU prefix, 4U.
The United Nations Headquarters complex was constructed in New York City in 1949-1950 beside the East River, on 17 acre of land purchased from the foremost New York real estate developer of the time, William Zeckendorf. 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 $8.5 million purchase was then funded by his father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated it to the City. The lead architect for the building was the real estate firm of Wallace Harrison, the personal architectural adviser for the Rockefeller family.
Planning and construction
Rather than announce a competition for the design of the facilities for the headquarters, the UN decided to commission a collaborative effort among a multinational team of leading architects. The American architect Wallace K. Harrison was named as chief architect and director of planning, and a board of design consultants was 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 Villamajo (Uruguay). Secretariat Building was controversial in its time but became a modernist landmark.
Per an agreement with the New York City government, the buildings met some but not all local fire safety and building codes. The Secretary-General's office is on the 38th floor.
Construction on the initial buildings began in 1947, with the cornerstone laid on October 24, 1949, and was completed in 1952. The Dag Hammarskjöld Building 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.
San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, were all proposed as sites for the United Nations Headquarters before Manhattan was finally decided upon. It was later revealed that France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands voted against situating the headquarters in the United States. 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 Trocadéro in Paris. Prior to the construction of the current complex, the UN was headquartered at a temporary location at the Sperry Gyroscope Corporation's offices in Lake Success, New York, an eastern suburb of the city in Nassau County on Long Island, from 1946–1952. 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. 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, and the Long Island Rail Road reopened the former World's Fair station as United Nations station
Corbusier vs. Niemeyer
Right after his arrival in New York, Niemeyer met Corbusier on his demands. He requested Niemeyer not to submit a scheme, but rather to collaborate with him on a project, on the basis that he could ‘create a commotion’. It was Wallace Harrison who tried to convince Niemeyer to move on his own.
50 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.
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 seem to me to be in everyone’s mind…
Later that day, 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 the 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.
Together, they submitted the scheme 23–32, which was built and is what can be seen today.
The site of the United Nations Headquarters has extraterritoriality status. 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. 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 French and English. 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 should be sent by courier. 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.
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.
The General Assembly building holds the General Assembly Hall which has a seating capacity of 1,800. At 165 ft long by 115 ft 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.
The 39-story Secretariat tower houses offices for the Secretary General, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Office of Disarmament Affairs, and the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM).
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.
Art at the United Nations
The complex is also notable for its gardens and outdoor sculptures. Iconic sculptures include the "Knotted Gun," a statue of a Colt Python revolver with its barrel tied in a knot, which was a gift from the Luxembourg government and "Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares", a gift from the Soviet Union, Russia. 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. 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.
Other prominent artworks on the grounds include a Marc Chagall stained glass window memorializing the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, the Japanese Peace Bell which is rung on the vernal equinox and the opening of each General Assembly session, a Chinese ivory carving made in 1974 (before the ivory trade was largely banned in 1989), and a Venetian mosaic depicting Norman Rockwell's painting The Golden Rule. A tapestry copy of Pablo Picasso's Guernica on the wall of the United Nations building at the entrance to the Security Council room. 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.
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.
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.
In recent years, however, the headquarters buildings have come to need extensive renovation, including the need to install sprinklers, fix leaks, and remove asbestos. A renovation plan was announced in 2000 involving the building of a temporary headquarters in Robert Moses Playground, across First Avenue from the current facility. Once renovations were finished, the temporary building would be used to ease overcrowding at the DC-1 and DC-2 However, due to the refusal of the United States and New York state governments to fund the project, the plan was abandoned.
Alternative sites were considered as temporary holding locations. 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. Another alternative for a temporary headquarters or a new permanent facility was the World Trade Center site. Once again, these plans met resistance both within the UN and from the US and New York governments and were abandoned.
On July 28, 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 improve security. Work began May 5, 2008 and the project has been plagued by setbacks. By 2009, the cost of the work had risen from $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion with some estimates saying it will take $3 billion Officials hope the renovated buildings will achieve a LEED Silver rating, although they concede that the delay in construction will result in a projected 7.5% inflation rate in the cost of materials and labor over the course of the project.
In popular culture
Due to its role in international politics, the United Nations Headquarters is often featured in movies and other pop culture. Movies in which the headquarters buildings are major settings include North by Northwest, The Interpreter, Live and Let Die, The Art of War, U.S. Marshals, Batman: The Movie, The Glass Wall, The Second Renaissance, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Peacemaker, Thirteen Days, In the Loop and Disney's 1977 animated film The Rescuers. The eighth (final) season of 24 takes place partly in the building, where major peace talks are interrupted by an assassination attempt. The only film actually shot on location in the UN headquarters is The Interpreter (2005), filmed with the consent of the Secretary-General, 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.
The headquarters was shown in exterior shots of the fictional Darling family office in the US television series Dirty Sexy Money.
The headquarters is also a location in a number of video games, including: ', Sim City 3000, ', Operation Body Count, Spider-Man 2, Civilization, ' and Grand Theft Auto IV.
The cover of the Megadeth album "Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?" depicts the U.N. headquarters lying in ruins with the sign "for sale", while "United Abominations" features it in flames and being destroyed by meteors. In the book World War Z, the United Nations Headquarters is moved to the USS Saratoga. The Marc Chagall stained glass wall was the subject of a souvenir sheet of U.N. postage stamps in 1967.
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, 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.
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 favour of the UN moving out of the country. Countries critical of the United States, such as Iran, are especially vocal in questioning the current location of the buildings in U.S. territory.
In 2001, Dmitriy Rogozin proposed moving the headquarters to St. Petersburg due to America's failure to pay its dues to the UN, 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 UN headquarters to the 'Venice of the North,' St. Petersburg," During the period where the UN 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. In 2010, The Dubai government offered Dubai as an ideal venue due to its proximity to international "trouble spots".
- International Court of Justice, The Hague
- Lake Success, New York
- Oscar Niemeyer
- Palace of Nations
- Queens Museum of Art
- Sperry Corporation
- U Thant Island
- United Nations Office at Geneva
- United Nations Office at Nairobi
- United Nations Office at Vienna
- 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