UN at 70: how money and modernist architecture came together at the UN headquarters in New York

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UN at 70: how money and modernist architecture came together at the UN headquarters in New York

UN at 70: how money and modernist architecture came together at the UN headquarters in New York

As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations this autumn, it is worth considering the way that money and modern architecture came together with unerring, calculated precision, in the UN building in New York.

A modernist skyscraper on the banks of the East River, it seems to deny the human, a monument to functional utility over animal spirits and the living world. This is deliberate.

Compare, if you will, the building that housed the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, which was cast aside – or at least into a subsidiary role – by the perceived need for a “new start” after the Second World War. The Palace of Nations in Geneva, an Art Deco masterpiece, is also “modern”, but its clean lines reflect the proportions of classical architecture, and it is set in gently landscaped gardens. This is not a coincidence: the land had been bequeathed to the city as a park by its owner in the 19th Century on condition that it remain open to the public, and that peacocks be allowed to wander freely over it.

Such sentimentality was not enough for the New World the UN’s founders wanted to build. []

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