Oculus - Winter 2010/2011 - (Page 41)
or American architects, “international practice” generally refers to commissions abroad. But the United Nations headquarters in New York is the world’s most prominent instance of design carried out jointly by architects from many nations. When the UN, founded in 1945, addressed the need for a headquarters, an international design competition was widely anticipated. But perhaps because of the disappointing competition for the seat of its precursor, the League of Nations in Geneva, the UN opted for an unprecedented procedure: design by a panel of 10 respected architects from as many different countries. Early site searches focused on locating the headquarters in a suburban setting, where a self-contained UN community could be established. The environs of Philadelphia and San Francisco vied with those of New York. When UN leaders rejected several locations in the New York area, including a Flushing Meadows Park tract promoted by Robert Moses, it seemed certain the organization would go elsewhere. But some determined city leaders came to the rescue. Developer William Zeckendorf had acquired several blocks along the East River, from 42nd Street northward, where he proposed to replace the area’s obsolescent slaughterhouses with a high-density, mixed-use development dubbed “X City.” Its futuristic design, published in October 1946, had been drawn up by Wallace K. Harrison, FAIA. When Zeckendorf’s plans stalled, however, Nelson Rockefeller quickly rallied family members and well-connected associates to buy the parcel in December 1946. Within three days the UN accepted this site as a gift. In January 1947 UN officials appointed Harrison director of design for the headquarters – a virtually inevitable choice, given his key roles in the designs of Rockefeller Center and X City – and charged him with assembling a 10-member Board of Design. For this, Le Corbusier seems to have been a given. He was to dominate the group, since Harrison and most other appointees subscribed to his design principles. The other board members were G.A. Soilleux of Australia, Gaston Brunfaut of Belgium, Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil, Ernest Cormier of Canada, Liang Ssu-ch’eng of China, Sven Markelius of Sweden, Nikolai D. Bassov of the USSR, Howard M. Robertson of the United Kingdom, and Julio Vilamajo of Uruguay. The board’s one-from-each-country composition ruled out other U.S. architects, hence no Wright; and no Gropius or Mies, who had become U.S. citizens by then. And architects had to come from UN member nations, which ruled out Aalto, whose country had been an Axis ally in the recent war.
The design of the iconic United Nations headquarters called for an unprecedented international collaborative effort initiated in 1947 By John Morris Dixon, FAIA
C O U R T E S Y AV E RY A R C H I T E C T U R A L A N D F I N E A R T S L I B R A RY, C O L U M B I A U N I V E R S I T Y
An early scheme for the UN complex, rendered by Hugh Ferriss
The board went right to work in February 1947, its varied proposals over the next few months conveyed in uniformly formatted sketches by the eminent renderer Hugh Ferriss. The headquarters design, essentially as built, won General Assembly approval in May. George A. Dudley, FAIA, who had served as secretary to the Board of Design, wrote a book about this unique, often acrimonious, design process titled A Workshop for Peace (The MIT Press, 1994). The well-illustrated, 415-page volume includes intriguing excerpts from day-by-day minutes. The UN is currently undertaking a $1.9-billion restoration project, directed by Michael Adlerstein, FAIA, the UN assistant secretary general and executive director of the UN Capital Master Plan. Because the world body decided to restore rather than transform the building, it didn’t recreate the original process of involving global luminaries. Responsibilities for the Secretariat tower are assigned to HLW International for updating interiors, the Syska Hennessey Group for mechanical systems, and R.A. Heintges & Associates for replacement of the complex’s pioneering curtain walls. Einhorn Yaffee Prescott will oversee renovation of the General Assembly building. The product of those few feverish months in 1947, completed in 1952, is being revitalized for many more decades of service. John Morris Dixon, FAIA, left the drafting board for journalism in 1960 and was editor of Progressive Architecture from 1972 to 1996. He wrote the Midtown Manhattan portion of the original 1967 AIA Guide to New York City. In recent years he has written for Architectural Record, Architecture, Architect, and other publications. OCULUS WINTER 10/11 41
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Winter 2010/2011
Oculus - Winter 2010/2011
A Word from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
So Says...Craig Dykers, AIA, LEED AP
How Cities Learn from Each Other
Why Isn’t Architecture a U.S. Export Priority?
When Small Firms Venture Abroad
Division of Labor
Out of Africa
Thinking Globally, Acting Humbly
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Winter 2010/2011
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