U.N.’s Makeover Sacrifices Hammarskjold Library for Security

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U.N.’s Makeover Sacrifices Hammarskjold Library for Security
The glass facade of the Secretariat building at the United Nations has been replaced. // © Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times
U.N.’s Makeover Sacrifices Hammarskjold Library for Security
The glass facade of the Secretariat building at the United Nations has been replaced. // © Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times

When the 70th regular session of the General Assembly convenes on Sept. 15, it will do so in a complex of buildings that hasn’t looked so good or felt so secure in generations.

“We now have a very safe compound,” said Michael Adlerstein, an assistant secretary general and the executive director of a seven-year, $2.15 billion renovation, known as the capital master plan, that is nearing completion. More visible than anything else is the robust yet crystalline new glass facade of the 39-story Secretariat building.

Yet the compound has been diminished.

For fear that the Dag Hammarskjold Library is vulnerable to ever more compact vehicle-borne bombs, United Nations officials have all but emptied the south side of the four-story building, which is only about 35 feet from a ramp off Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.

Completed in 1961 as a gift from the Ford Foundation, the library has one of the loveliest spaces in the compound: a penthouse reception room that feels like an island of luminous tranquillity, with a joyful mural by the Swedish artist Bo Beskow. Downstairs is an intimate, walnut-paneled auditorium in which staff members have long enjoyed cultural programs. []

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