While it’s easy for those of us at the United Nations to be agitated by Capital Master Plan’s seemingly haphazard construction, it is an opportunity to use physical rerouting to appreciate UN history —even if you’re running late for your next meeting.
Take the covered walkway along the East River; this path is a chance to observe the outer environment and imagine what these 17 acres of land looked like 60 years ago.
When the General Assembly first discussed the need for a permanent home in 1945, it received no shortage of invitations. However, it wasn’t until December of 1946, when John D. Rockefeller purchased and donated the present site that the General Assembly agreed to establish headquarters in the densely populated island of Manhattan.
Built between 1950 and 1952, the United Nations Headquarters Complex was the first major modern construction project in post-war America. The Secretariat Building is still considered one of the best examples of International Style architecture—a movement that deliberately broke from the decorative styles of the past and emphasized an aesthetic of structure and function.
Speaking with MediaGlobal, Public Information Officer of CMP, Werner Schmidt explains that the physical structure strove for a “transparency and openness” that would reflect the future of international diplomacy in action. For example, the original visitor’s lobby included windows allowing guests to see into conference rooms.
Although the main function of CMP is to renovate an aging building system, much of the project’s focus is on reclaiming the architectural language that has been lost over the years.
One example of this reclaiming is the renovation of the Secretariat Building’s glass facade. According to Schmidt, the original was a bluish grey tint and much more transparent. The tint changed years ago when the building was engulfed in a foil to better protect against potential blasts. When the project is completed in 2013, the building will resemble its original appearance.
In the meantime, Schmidt encourages those walking along the river to start looking up. In the next few weeks, a multistory scaffolding system will dangle from the Secretariat’s facade, allowing workers to remove the glass and aluminum. Schimdt believes that the dismantling of the entire structure will be “the most visible and spectacular work to see from outside the building.”
Another advantage of the CMP project is the ability to see a piece of the Berlin Wall or the Equestrian Statue up close and a bit out of context. Schmidt laughs, “these sculptures are taking their little rest.”
When asked what those at the UN should look forward to, Schmidt expressed excitement about the visitor’s lobby. “It is the public areas that define the architectural essence,” he explained. “The lobby is where first impressions are made.”
CMP’s restoration will allow the lobby to reclaim its original natural lighting, a subtle reminder of both the building and the UN’s language of openness, transparency, and harmony.