In photos: Inside the United Nations headquarters building in New York
Nipun Prabhakar shares his photo essay of the UNHQ in New York in honour of the organisation’s 75th birthday.
2020 marks 75 years of the United Nations. It also marks one year since I experienced and documented its headquarters building in New York during my stay there.
A controversial collaboration between 11 architects with Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer, among others, under the leadership of Wallace K. Harrison, the United Nations headquarters building (UNHQ) is a huge complex (6.9 to 7.3ha) that overlooks the East River. Built in a former slaughterhouse district on the city’s East Side, it’s a masterpiece of its time and a symbol of not only peace and cooperation, but also authority and power.
The land held by the UN is technically “extraterritorial” and independent, but it follows most US laws. The headquarters consists of three main buildings: the General Assembly building, the conference building and the 39-floor secretariat building.
While Niemeyer designed the International Style glass facade secretariat building, Corbusier designed the large volume, heavy concrete General Assembly building.
Among the headquarters’ many critics, Frank Lloyd Wright dismissed the secretariat structure as “a deadpan box with no expression of the nature of what transpired in the building.”
Regardless of Wright and others’ criticisms, the building was one of the world’s first attempts at such a giant collaboration: the most well-known architects of the time were brought together to create something unique. After long and never-ending discussions, ego clashes and debates, a refined design that included everyone’s thoughts and ideas was finally built.
The following photo series was developed in 2019, and contains images that capture the architectural essence of the building.
This article and photo series is by Nipun Prabhakar, a documentary photographer based in Kutch and Delhi. He works on long-term projects dealing with intersections of ideas, artifacts, built environments, and folklore. His practice is informed by his training and experience as an architect in situations that call for a contextual response to culture and geography. He was the Cornell South Asian fellow 2019 for his project on the Doors of Kathmandu.Read more by Nipun Prabhakar.