United Nations General Assembly Building

Added by Dianne Pierce OBrien, last update: August 17, 2012, 12:12 pm

United Nations General Assembly Building
The west and south facades of the United Nations General Assembly Building., source: Dianne Pierce O'Brien, date: January 31, 2011
United Nations
New York, NY 10017
United States
40° 45' 1.2456" N, 73° 58' 4.1304" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Administration (ADM)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

The United Nations General Assembly building was constructed as part of a larger complex, intended to be the Headquarters for the United Nations. The General Assembly building was built for the United Nations delegation, comprised of representatives from Member States of the United Nations, who come together annually for sessions of the General Assembly. There are three other buildings on the 18-acre complex in addition to the General Assembly building, including the Secretariat building, Conference Area, and Library, as well as landscaped plazas.

Dates: Commission / Completion:February 14, 1946(e): Decision to build United Nations Headquarters in New York City Early 1947(a): United Nations Headquarters design planning commenced by design team November 20, 1947(e): Design plan approved by General Assembly January 1949 (a): Construction contract awarded to four different building firms from New York October 24, 1949(e): Construction of the United Nations Headquarters began August 21, 1950(e): Secretariat workers moved their offices into the new structures October 14, 1952(e): First meeting of the General Assembly in the General Assembly building hall
Architectural and other Designer(s): Chief Architect and Director of Planning: Wallace K. Harrison (United States); Board of Design Consultants: Nikolai D. Bassov (Soviet Union), Gaston Brunfaut (Belgium), Ernest Cormier (Canada), Le Corbusier (France), Liang Seu-Cheng (China), Sven Markelius (Sweden), Oscar Niemayer (Brazil), Howard Robertson (United Kingdom), G. A. Soilleux (Australia), Julio Vilamajo (Uruguay).
Others associated with Building/Site: John D. Rockefeller, Jr. provided $8.5 million for the purchase of the site upon which the United Nations Headquarters would be erected.
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): 1976-1980(a): Meeting areas inside the General Assembly building (including the General Assembly Hall) expanded in response to the growing number of Member States of the United Nations. 2013-2015(expected): Anticipated renovation of wooden walls and second floor of south lobby and restoration of dome in the General Assembly building.
Current Use: The General Assembly building continues to be used for the annual meetings of the United Nations General Assembly. Extra conference rooms and and a communications hub for the complex are also located in the building.
Current Condition: Although it experienced some neglect in maintenance during the latter part of the twentieth century causing roof leaks, the General Assembly building remains structurally sound. Moreover, the building system has lasted over 30 years more than expected, thus many replacement pieces for the building systems can no longer be purchased. In response, a plan has been initiated to renovate the dome and roof of the General Assembly building and update its building systems in 2013-2015.
General Description:

The five story General Assembly building is the northernmost structure on the United Nations Plaza in New York City, located between 1st Avenue and East River Drive, and spanning from 44th Street to 45th Street, approximately. Its footprint is a curved trapezoid, with its 380 foot long west and east facades concavely curving. These two facades have minimal ornament and are comprised of English limestone with Vermont marble panels and trimmings to correspond with the north and south facades of the Secretariat building to the southeast. The north and south facades are straight; the wider north facade has marble piers holding translucent glass panels while the south facade is comprised of a recessed marble frame holding a 53.5 foot high plate-glass window. The north facade, which opens into a massive landscaped plaza, is the main entrance to the Headquarters for the public, while the south facade, which opens into the Secretariat plaza, is the main entrance for the United Nations delegates. There is a shallow copper dome on the top center of the structure. Inside beneath the dome is the main Assembly Hall, comprising the second, third, and fourth floors of the structure at 165 feet in length, 155 feet in width, and 75 feet in height. This hall is used for the annual General Assembly meetings and has been expanded to reflect the increased membership of the United Nations. The lower levels contain conference rooms as well as the communications hub for the entire complex.

Construction Period:


Original Physical Context:

The context of the General Assembly building within United Nations Headquarters is almost the same today as it was in 1950. The only major addition, the Dag Hammarskjold Library to the south of the General Assembly building, was constructed in 1961.

Technical Evaluation:

The General Assembly building is an example of the modernization of building technology after World War II. The structure has a steel frame with English limestone flanking the east and west facades. The north facade is comprised of translucent glass panels, designed specifically for the building, set into marble piers, corresponding with the 53.5 foot high plate glass window of the south facade, also set within a marble frame. These cantilevered entrances illustrate the technological advances in engineering at the time. The sloping roof and shallow copper dome on top of the steel structure demonstrate the dismissal of classical proportions in modernist architecture and construction.


The design and construction of the General Assembly building and the entire United Nations complex remains a monument to the international organization in the post-World War II era. At the time of construction, these structures provided a symbol of the unification of the world with the intention of maintaining peace. In addition to the multi-national design team that created the General Assembly building, its worldly materials, such as English limestone and Vermont marble used on the exterior, demonstrate the international spirit of the time.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
The General Assembly building is an example of the International Style of modern architecture, with its open interiors, minimal ornamentation, and regularity, as well as an extensive use of glass. Its design illustrates an international effort, combining the modern architectural styles of the numerous regions represented by its Board of Design Consultants, creating a unique structure that did not represent a single nation's style, but rather the architectural style of the unified world after World War II.

The design and construction of the General Assembly building in conjunction with the rest of the United Nations complex demonstrates the significance of the organization in the post-World War II era. The decision to build the complex in the modernist style illustrated the stability and prominence of the organization in a world shattered by war. Moreover, constructing this complex in New York City revealed the power and preeminence of the city at this time.

General Assessment:
The General Assembly building represents a significant point in both modernist architecture and the post-World War II era. It is a prominent example of the collaboration of a multi-national design team aiming to create a culturally, socially, politically, and architecturally significant group of structures illustrating the desire for a unified and peaceful world. The need to expand the General Assembly hall and conference rooms over the last 60 years reveals the success of the United Nations organization, symbolized by the General Assembly building and corresponding structures on the United Nations Plaza.
Text references:

"Fact Sheet: United Nations Headquarters." Visitors Services, United Nations Headquarters. 1 February 2011. ~ Hughes, C.J. "UN Headquarters Gets $1.8 Billion Facelift." Architectural Record, 20 September 2010. 1 February 2011. ~ "International Style." Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2011. 1 February 2011. ~ Longmead, Donald. "Icons of American Architecture, Volume 2." Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2009. Pages 407-415. ~ Pastore, Arthur R. Jr. "UN's Modernistic Headquarters." The Christian Science Monitor, 27 September 1952. Page 17. ~ "The Story of United Nations Headquarters." Public Inquiries Unit, United Nations. Fact Sheet No. 23, July 2006. 30 January 2011. ~ "United Nations Capital Master Plan: Frequently Asked Questions." United Nations, 2006. 1 February 2011. ~ "United Nations Plaza, New York, NY." Google Maps, 2011. 31 January 2011.

Recorder/Date: Dianne Pierce O'Brien / February 18, 2011
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