This will alter the skyline view and make the UN Plaza Hotel views non existant.
Status: Construction Document Phase
Expected Completion Date: 2006
Mission to U.N. will be rebuilt
By Betsy Pisik
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
NEW YORK — The 12-story office housing the U.S. Mission to the United Nations will be demolished this summer and replaced by a 22-story concrete bunker of a building designed to withstand car bombs, chemical or biological attacks, and other threats.
The office's nearly 300 full-time employees were recently notified that they will be moving to temporary space two blocks away. The mission, which works with the president and State Department on U.S. policy at the United Nations, could be emptied as soon as Memorial Day weekend, with the razing slated for July.
"We expect to be in construction by this time next year," said Charles Scarallo, who has managed the project for the General Services Administration since 1999. He declined to give any details, citing "the State Department's need for security."
The State Department has been planning to rebuild the 32-year-old U.S. Mission building at 45th Street and First Avenue since at least 1999, when architectural firms were first invited to bid on the job. But in the wake of September 11, attacks on U.S. diplomatic buildings in Africa and attempts elsewhere, the need for security has propelled the project.
"This is a perfectly secured building," said architect Charles Gwathmey, in an interview that was monitored by mission personnel. "We have adopted all the security [requirements] and made an aesthetic of it."
The State Department released a drawing of the proposed building but declined to make public other images. As is customary with all federal buildings since the September 11 attacks, no floor plans or schematics will be circulated, even within architectural circles.
Diplomats say the U.S. Mission has outgrown its existing building, a squat glass structure by Kelly-Gruzen Architects with a facade of honeycombed concrete. The new tower will have nearly twice the space and include a multifunction auditorium and reception room, as well as an office serving foreign press.
"This building is old, it's depressing, it's small and nothing works that well," said one U.S. Mission staffer. "They're overdue for a new building."
But security requirements are paramount, some officials say.
The Gwathmey Siegel-designed building will have very thick exterior walls of reinforced high-strength concrete to withstand an attack.
The windows — a building's most vulnerable feature — don't even start until the seventh floor, and then graduate in size as they rise above the street to the top-floor auditorium.
The lower floors house the heating, ventilation and other mechanical systems that are more often found toward the middle and top of a tower. The building will have a zinc-clad central core for elevators and ductwork that pokes through the sloped roof like an observatory.
The airy main entrance is made of tempered glass on a steel frame to minimize injuries in the event of a blast.
The area appears to be as welcoming as any of the university buildings, libraries or corporate towers designed by Mr. Gwathmey and his longtime professional partner, Robert Siegel, except that this entrance will have a barely perceptible curtain of air pressure to keep chemical and biological agents at bay.
Diplomatic security has been an issue for federal planners and architects ever since the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed in 1983, leaving 63 persons dead.
Al Qaeda's 1998 attacks on embassies in Kenya and Tanzania increased the anxiety and led to the adoption of a new set of stringent security guidelines. U.S. embassies also were recently targeted in Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
But unlike new U.S. embassies in many foreign countries, which have been built outside the city centers on isolated land to fortresslike specifications, the U.N. Mission is located on only a third of an acre, and nestled up between the Ugandan Mission, a glass-walled hotel, and anonymous midtown offices. It is across from the United Nations, on busy First Avenue.
The building will be only marginally set back from a busy street corner, with closely spaced steel bollards replacing the wooden sawhorses and low cement blocks currently in place at the perimeter.
"This is the only U.S. embassy in America," said David Buss, an administrator at the U.S. Mission who has been working on the construction. "At home, there are protections we can count on. We don't have the same kinds of fears we may have [overseas]."
Invited guests, such as journalists, diplomats and representatives of nongovernmental organizations, will be restricted to roughly 20 percent of the building. The remaining 80 percent will be secured for U.S. Mission personnel, who will use separate entrances and elevators.
Federal buildings such as courthouses and offices can be built in most places independent of neighborhood zoning regulations. Mr. Gwathmey and Mr. Buss said that with its setbacks from the street, the 22-story mission largely conforms to existing restrictions.
"There is no question that we had security and blast constraints, and a new level of technology that defined the whole exterior wall," Mr. Gwathmey said.
"At the same time, how do you make a building in Manhattan, across from the United Nations, to be democratic, open and representative of what America stands for?"
This will alter the skyline view and make the UN Plaza Hotel views non existant.
:?: Is this the final rendering? Is there any more renderings of this building.
Well not bad...is that a heliport on top of the crown? I would imagine they need that in case of an emergency...if an attack or an emergency situatuion.
'Ugly' U.S. Mission Building to Get Roomier Replacement
New Headquarters at U.N. Designed to Withstand Terrorism
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 30, 2004; Page A21
UNITED NATIONS -- For more than 40 years, it has been the workplace of America's most famous ambassadors, including George H.W. Bush and Madeleine K. Albright. It has also served as a key staging ground for some of the country's most important diplomatic initiatives, including U.S. efforts to sell the world on its invasion of Iraq and to defuse a potential nuclear war with the Soviets during the Cuban missile crisis.
But the headquarters of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations doesn't generate much respect among the world's diplomatic set, whose members have derided the gray 12-story structure as an architectural eyesore that is unfit to house the world's lone superpower.
"It's ugly," said Germany's U.N. ambassador, Gunter Pleuger. "And inside it's not very modern. I think the United States delegation deserves a better one."
The United States is set to get an upgrade. Construction workers will demolish the building on 45th Street and First Avenue over the next four months to make way for a heavily reinforced, 23-story high-rise that is designed to accommodate nearly twice the staff and survive a car bomb explosion.
The $4.4 million demolition has forced more than 160 American diplomats and support staff into a commercial building several blocks from U.N. headquarters, on 45th Street near Lexington Avenue, until the new building is completed in 2008.
The passing of the storied building, whose concrete, honeycombed facade once stirred fans of Modernist architecture, has generated little protest from the city's preservationists. Even former occupants are glad to see it go.
"It's lived its life," former U.S. ambassador John D. Negroponte said in a formal ceremony convened to shutter the old building. "It's kind of worn out."
"I've been in it once," said his successor, John C. Danforth. "When I see it in passing, my heart does not skip a beat."
Another senior U.S. diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, put it more bluntly: "They should have blown up the architect."
The building, which opened its doors in the spring of 1961, was not always so despised. For a country that had been ambivalent about the United Nations, the decision to erect a permanent mission across the street from U.N. headquarters was seen as a symbol of America's commitment to working with others to pursue peace. A New York Times editorial in March 1956 hailed U.S. plans to build "our own U.N. monument" as a powerful rebuke to "a few antediluvian isolationists in Congress who would like to have us pull out of this often annoying company and go it alone."
The effort faced bureaucratic, financial and political hurdles from the beginning, when American officials began looking for a site in 1947. The late U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. overcame the forces of Washington bureaucracy and American isolationism to make it happen, invoking fears that the Soviets were considering purchasing the site for their own mission. That, he warned, would constitute a "diplomatic Sputnik for them," a reference to the first man-made craft sent into space.
During Lodge's tenure, Congress appropriated about $3.7 million in March 1958 to begin construction. But President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose golden bust is displayed in the main conference room at the mission's transitional headquarters, vetoed the bill because of an unrelated dispute over civil servants' retirement funds. The bill was ultimately signed into law months later.
Inspired by Swiss architect Le Corbusier, who helped design the U.N. headquarters, the firms Kahn & Jacobs and Kelly & Gruzen conceived the building in the Brutalist style, a form of architecture popular in the 1960s and 1970s that relied on sculpted, rough concrete surfaces.
"It was an expression by the U.S. government that we were to be associated with the same kind of modern values that shaped the creation of the United Nations," said Matt Postal, who once led walking tours of Modernist architectural buildings in Manhattan. Postal said that the building has since fallen on hard times. Its concrete facade is cracked and in need of a scrub. Inside, the mission is cramped and cluttered. The wiring is too old to accommodate modern electrical, security and computer networks, U.S. officials said.
Like its predecessor, the new building has taken more than a decade to finance and has faced intense resistance from the United Nations' toughest critics. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) pledged in 1998 to fight it, saying, "I intend to do all I can to make sure that hardworking Americans don't pay for a State Department palace in New York."
The building's shell, which will be constructed by the General Services Administration, will cost $50 million to $60 million. The State Department will pay more than $12 million for renting the two spaces. To save money, the government scrapped plans for a permanent residence for the ambassador.
U.S. officials declined to discuss the cost or the practical impact the move will have on U.S. intelligence agencies that have long used the United Nations as a prime post for listening in on foreign diplomats.
The mission's transition to temporary quarters, meanwhile, has irritated some diplomats, who complained they have been squeezed into smaller cubicles while the mission's top three ambassadors have been given equal space. Still, many diplomats are grateful to flee a building that provided an inviting target for car bombers. Indeed, the design for the new mission has been influenced as much by terrorists as by the aesthetics of architecture or the principles of international cooperation.
The new building will be set back from the street, and the first six floors will be windowless, in an effort to prevent injury from exploding glass from a car bomb. Former New York Times architectural critic Herbert Muschamp described the new mission as a "high-rise bomb shelter."
"The form and material gesture diplomatically toward friendship and transparency," he wrote. "Otherwise this is black helicopter stuff: a crisp but hulking tower of power."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Scaffolding is currently up over the building. Demolition should begin soon.
Im not so fond of the whole tile look of the facade. Looks like the Rock Hall which has aged horribly.
So they are finally about to start construction on this somewhat atrocious-looking building.
Does resemble a highrise prison, with a watchtower at the top and a flagpole in the front to boot!
The higher-ups get bigger windows.
Somewhat atrocious-looking in a good way. Ugly but interesting.
It really does look like Sony (AT&T), doesn't it? It must be those double-height windows at the top.
Signs of an application of Post-Modernism, or just dumb coincidence?