Every September, New York City traffic gets knotted up by two events with two very different dress codes: Fashion Week and the United Nations General Assembly. This year, as New York Fashion Week settles into new venues further downtown, the UN will be marking its 70th anniversary by meeting, as it has since it was opened in 1952, at its iconic uptown headquarters. Different agendas notwithstanding, both events cast an eye toward design.
On the occasion of its 70th, the UN will be highlighting the role that its headquarters – a landmark in architectural modernism – has contributed to the institution. Designed by a committee of masters, including Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, Sven Markelius and American architect Wallace Harrison, the buildings have come to emblematise the post-war moment, not only of politics, but also of design. To mark the anniversary and to celebrate its mammoth restoration project, Rizzoli will be publishing The United Nations at 70: Restoration and Renewal, available in October.
Over the last decade, the UN has undertaken a nearly £1.3 billion campus restoration, ridding it of lead and asbestos, cutting water and energy consumption by about 50 per cent, and undoing some modifications carried out over the years. 'All of its iconic spaces have been restored to the original appearance they had in 1952 when the building first opened,' explains Michael Adlerstein, the UN assistant secretary general, who directed the restoration. These spaces include a rare trifecta of Nordic interiors: the Security Council Chamber, designed by Norwegian architect Arnstein Arneberg; the Trusteeship Council Chamber, designed by Danish architect and designer Finn Juhl; and the Economic and Social Council Chamber, by Sven Markelius. 'All of the fixtures and furnishings have been returned to the look they had when the building first opened,' Adlerstein emphasises.
Even though the institution has undergone profound change (its 50 charter countries have swollen to 193, and its staff has expanded tenfold), the original space planning has managed to accommodate those changes. As Adlerstein observes, 'the design has held its own'.