THE UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS
The Secretariat Building. (1950)
NEW YORK'S FIRST GLASS BOX
Hello everybody! We continue in this trip through the evolution of by always called “The Skyscraper City”. We are began the 1950s and we began with a great event in New York's and world architecture history: the conclusion of the first building of the United Nations complex, the 39-story Secretariat Building; the city's first glass curtain wall facade skyscrapers. This is the first part of the history of the construction of the of the United Nations headquarters.
The 39-story skyscraper for the Secretariat of the United Nations was the first building that was finished of the famous world organization that fight for world peace, that was formely founded in October 24, 1945 as a result of the signature, by more than 50 countries, of the United Nations Charter, in San Francisco, in April of that same year, at the end of World War II.
In April - June 1945, representatives of fifty countries congregated in San Francisco to hold the United Nations Conference on International Organization. Those delegates deliberated to constitute the United Nations Charter in accordance with the proposals given by the delegates of the major Allied powers amid the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in August - October 1944. Subsequent to the lengthy discussions, the Charter was signed on 26 June 1945 by the delegates of the countries. Poland, not represented at the Conference, signed it soon after and became one of the original fifty-one Member States. The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, when the Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and a majority of other signatories (United Nations. Founding of the UN -San Francisco Conference
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The signature of United Nations Charter. San Francisco. June 26th, 1945. Photo: United Nations. Flickr.com. Link: www.unmultimedia.org/photo/
The commitment of the UN is to foment world peace with action as the combat against hunger and poverty, like mediator of international conflicts, plead for the suppression of the atomic and conventional guns and give to poor countries nutritional and educational support through subdivisions like the FAO and UNESCO. United Nations fight for women and children rights, for the ethnic minority perople dignity and fight to be avoid a new world war, that could be deadlier. At the moment they are more than the 190 member countries in the United Nations, include, with pride, my country, Mexico.
For their multicultural and multiracial character, when lodging numerous populations of foreign people New York are the Capital of the World. Its position was ratified when, in December of 1946, the city was elected for placed the United Nations permanent headquarters. The place that was chosen to build the new building was the Manhattan island East River shoreline, between 42nd, and 43rd. Streets, that was donated by John B. Rockefeller Jr. Meanwhile, the UN settled down in the old 1939 World Fair New York City Pavilion (now the Queens Museum), in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens.
“The area was a region of slums, slaughter houses and breweries when on December 11, 1946, Warren R. Austin, the Permanent Representative of the United Nations, made a important announcement to the Assembly then meeting in its temporary quarters at Flushing Meadow, on Long Island. Austin said that John D. Rockefeller, Jr., an American philanthropist and financier, had offered $8,500,000 to buy the East River site as permanent home for the United Nations. The Assembly had been considering various proposals from many localities in North America, including San Francisco and the Westchester and Connecticut areas, but within thirty-six hours this offer was accepted. New York City acquired and gave to the United Nations the remaining land needed to round out the Headquarters site as it exists today and deeded over the streets and the waterfront rights along the East River. To a joint program of improvements with the United Nations the city has contributed $26 million” (Your United Nations. The Official Guide Book. New York. United Nations Office of Public Information. Eleventh Edition. 1961. Pages 3 and 4).
A new group of architects international, leader by Wallace K. Harrison, and advised by the famous French architect Le Corbusier, was united to project the new buildings for the United Nations, in 1947.
Eric P. Nash (1999) write about the UN project:
“The American leader of the design board, Wallace K. Harrison, had designed the emblematic Trylon and Perisphere for the 1939 World’s Fair, and was searching for similar Platonic forms to set on a greensward. Le Corbusier seized upon the Secretariat tower as his personal mission. The rest of the team, largely undistinguished except for Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil, were selected according to global political spheres. Mies Van der Rohe and Walter Gropius were omitted because they were associated with the defeated enemy, Germany and Alvar Aalto was left out because Finland was not yet a UN member, Frank Lloyd Wright, never much of a team player, was not seriously considered” (Nash, Eric P. Manhattan Skyscrapers. New York. Princeton Architectural Press. 1999. Page. 99).
Robert M. Stern (1995) says:
“Though flawed, the U.N. complex as crystallized in the spring of 1947 was the long-awaited, triumphant realization of interwar-era Modernist architecture and urbanism. The dynamic composition of the buildings consisted of the unencumbered mass of the Secretariat slab, distinguished by he diagrammatic clarity of its cladding –two walls of glass and two of stone- and, as a foreground set piece, the Assembly Building with its hourglass plan. The shape of the Assembly Building was designed to provide a midsection lobby between the Assembly hall and a room for the Security Council. Because the shape was a particular favorite of Harrison’s, and because it had been approved by the now-disbanded Board of Design, it was retained even after budget problems required the elimination of the council chamber. The rooftop dome was added at the request of Senator Austin, who felt it was a necessary design feature to convince Congress of the building’s suitability and thus to obtain government funds for the building’s completion” (Stern, Robert. A.M. Mellins, Thomas. Fishman, David. New York 1960. Architecture and urbanism between the Second World War and the Bicentennial. New York. The Monacello Press. 1997. Page. 617).
“Demolition of the fifty buildings on the U.N. site began in July 1947. Only one building on the site was not cleared to make way for the world headquarters, a seven-story, 70,000-square-foot, exposed-concrete building built for the New York City Housing Authority (1947) on the northeast corner of Forty-second Street and First Avenue; this was first used for offices and in 1951 was converted to use as the U.N. Library” (Stern. 1997. Fragment).
“Groundbreaking for the Secretariat Building took place on September 14, 1948. By October excavation for the first three buildings was well under way. By June 1949, with the steel skeleton of the Secretariat rising, the thirty-nine-story glazed slab, 544 feet high, 287 feet wide and 72 feet thick, with 5,400 operable windows and 5,400 glass spandrels, began to take form. It attracted the attention of architects, who marveled at its slender shape and technological innovations, and the general public, who hadn’t seen a comparable large-scale construction project on New York since the completion of Rockefeller Center. To commemorate the founding of the world organization four years before, the Secretariat’s ceremonial cornerstone was laid on October 24, 1949, proclaimed U.N. Day by Mayor O`Dwyer” (Stern. 1997. Pages 617-618).
The Secretariat Building under construction. Midtown Manhattan in the background. June 1949.
The Secretary Building. November 1949.
Finally, the Secretariat tower was completed in the Spring of 1950 and its facade of wall curtain, totally had in green-blue crystal woke up the admiration of the critics.
Eric P. Nash (1999) says about the Secretary:
“The slab form of the Secretariat, with glass curtain walls bookended by 72-foot-deep walls of white Vermont marble is an evolution of Le Corbusier’s solid-edged slabs of the Pavilion Suisse (1932) in Paris and his Ministry of Education and Health Building with Oscar Niemeyer in Rio de Janeiro (1938). There were still battles to be fought: Le Corbusier wanted windows that opened and were protected by an awning-like brise-soleil as a natural means of climated control. Harrison insisted that air-conditioning was the cornerstone of the Pax Americana, and designed an innovative curtain wall cantilevered two feet, nine inches, in front of the steel structure so that it formed a flush skin of blue-green Thermopane heat-absorbing glass. The Termopane spandrels between the window bands were painted black on the inner face. With French invective Le Corbusier dismissed this ‘cellophane veil’ as ‘sepulchral repression.’ Nonetheless, the slab was a crisp précis and set the pace for glass curtain-wall buildings in New York and around the world. For American, Internationalism represented postwar prosperity; for Europe it was a chance to rebuild; and for developing countries it stood for a brighter future” (Nash, Eric P. 1999. Page 101)
The new UN Secretariat Building and the Empire State Building. 1951.
The Secretariat Building at night. 1951. Photo: Ewing Galloway.
Aerial view of United Nations headquarters with Secretariat building.
Next, a general panorama of the city of 1950.
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