Field Trip Friday: United Nations Headquarters

Last week the OHNY staff (all three of us!) stepped outside the boundaries of the U.S. and entered into international territory to visit the United Nations Headquarters located in Turtle Bay. If you walk inside the boundaries of the U. N. (between 1st Ave and the East River from 42nd Street up to 48th Street) you are, in fact, walking in an area governed not by the United States, but by the U.N., which has its own police and fire department and its own postal service. As you enter the U.N. Visitors Center, you pass an impressive line of flags, 193 in all, representing all of the member countries. They are laid out in alphabetical order starting with Afghanistan and finishing with Zimbabwe. Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd’s anti-gun sculpture titled Non-Violence sits outside as a symbol of international peace.

Outside the U.N.

Non-violence sculpture, donated to the U.N. by Luxemburg

The NY Headquarters, built in 1952, consist of four buildings: the Secretariat building, the General Assembly building, the Conference building and the Dag Hammarskjold Library, which was added in 1961. Rather than holding a competition for the buildings, the United Nations Board of Design was created, an international committee of architects that included Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer and Wallace K. Harrison, among others.

U.N. General Assembly building atrium

U.N. General Assembly building atrium

The tour of the building started in the impressive Security Council, with its iconic circular wood table, a gift of Norway. The primary purpose of the Security Council is to promote peace and to discuss and defuse international conflicts. The Presidency of the Security Council rotates each month; each member country getting a turn.

U.N. Security Council

The other main highlight of the tour was the General Assembly, the main conference hall where all 193 member States of the U.N. meet to discuss international issues. It features a large golden wall that sits just behind the podium and upper booth areas that are reserved for the official translators (as seen in the movie The Translator with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn).

U.N. General Assembly

Along the tour, there are also a number of exhibits that represent the three main goals of the U.N. – peacekeeping and security, upholding and maintaining human rights, and social and economical development. Other exhibits serve as reminders of the international catastrophes that have taken place in the past due to war and conflict. You can see a status of St. Agnes that was found face-down in the ruins after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Also on view is the official document of the U.N. rejecting the denial of the holocaust.

St. Agnes statue

The tour is a great way to get an intimate view of how the U.N. functions and how it conducts international business on a daily basis. It also provides a sense of hope and solidarity, knowing that right here in New York, the U.N. is working to build a more peaceful and prosperous world.

The U.N. buildings are currently undergoing their first renovation since they were built. It is an extensive renovation that started 2009 and is scheduled to finish in 2013. Only the infrastructure of the buildings are being updated; the buildings, for the most part, will remain unaltered in honor of the international style and symbolic nature of the U.N. Headquarters. Access to the visitors center is free and open to the public daily from 9:00am – 5:30pm. Public tours will continue through the renovation and are now being conducted from the General Assembly building. For more information about tours prices and times click here.

The U.N. will also be conducting architectural tours during the 9th Annual OHNY Weekend taking place on October 15 &16. Stay tuned to find out more details soon!

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