United Nations Headquarters

DESTINATIONS united-nations-headquarters


United Nations Headquarters

Officially an "international zone" and not part of the United States, the U.N. Headquarters is a working symbol of global cooperation. Built between 1947 and 1961, the headquarters sit on a lushly landscaped, 18-acre tract on the East River, fronted by flags of member nations. The United Nations celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2015 with the completion of a seven-year overhaul that retained the 1950s look and feel (and in some cases, green carpet) of the complex, while incorporating state-of-the-art technology to upgrade the heat, sound, and security systems and to improve its overall performance. The $2.1 billion renovation returns the historic campus to its original design, in the process addressing contemporary concerns, like accessibility, energy efficiency, and blast-proofing, as well as adding some not exactly new conveniences, like sprinklers. The General Assembly Building reopened in early 2015 after its 16-month renovation, which included replacing the gold-leafed background of the iconic U.N. emblem that had become caked with tar and nicotine—as had the walls and ceiling of the hall—after decades of cigar and cigarette smoke (city law did not apply here, so smoking was not outlawed until 2008). The only way to enter the U.N. Headquarters is with the 45-minute guided tour (given in 20 languages; reservations can be made through the website), which includes the General Assembly and major council chambers. While the tour covers a lot of educational ground, it does not cover a lot of physical ground; council chambers may be closed on any given day, and you cannot enter the Secretariat building. Also, you can no longer wander the grounds, rose garden, or riverside promenade. Arrive 30 minutes before the start of your tour for security screening. If you ordered tickets online, be sure to bring your printout. The newly renovated Conference Building, which includes the original chambers of the Security Council, the Trusteeship Council, and the Economic and Social Council, as well as gifts from U.N. Member States, like the mosaic representation of Norman Rockwell's Golden Rule, are all back on public display. The tour also includes displays on war, peacekeeping, nuclear nonproliferation, human rights, and refugees, and passes corridors overflowing with imaginatively diverse artwork. Free tickets to assemblies are sometimes available on a first-come, first-served basis before sessions begin; pick them up in the General Assembly lobby. The complex's buildings (the slim, 505-foot-tall green-glass Secretariat Building; the much smaller, domed General Assembly Building; and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library) evoke the influential French modernist Le Corbusier (who was on the team of architects that designed the complex), and the surrounding park and plaza remain visionary. The public concourse has a gift shop, a bookstore, and a post office where you can mail postcards with U.N. stamps; you can also get your passport stamped with the U.N. stamp.


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