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Scenes from a Visit to the United Nations

Because of its high-profile global role in matters of war and peace, the United Nations complex on 1st Avenue between 42nd and 48th Streets, just off the East River, attracts a million visitors a year, many of them from overseas. While several of the most notable art and architectural features of the General Assembly Building can be viewed for free in the Visitors Lobby, including the hauntingly beautiful Chagall window and a Cold War model of Sputnik, a paid guided or audio tour beyond the Visitors Centre provides access to much more - the important assembly hall itself, several galleries of donated artwork, and exhibits highlighting the organization's humanitarian mission, among others.

From a Visit to the UN
United Nations Visitors Centre. Lobby, with stairs to lower levels of shops.

From a Visit to the UN
United Nations Visitors Centre. Information desk.

When the narration gets into the latter topic, this is not a lightweight tour. In fact, the tour comes on pretty heavy, assuming the weight of the world.

From a Visit to the UN
detail. Designed by Marc Chagall, presented in 1964 as a gift from UN staff members and the artist in memory of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold and fifteen other people who died in a plane crash in 1961.

From a Visit to the UN
General Assembly Hall, United Nations.

The original UN complex, designed by an international committee of architects and built in 1949-1950, has for some time looked outdated and worn. An extensive $1.9 billion renovation plan that began in 2008 and will continue into 2013 should make the modernist global landmark look new again.

From a Visit to the UN
renovations, UN complex. The building in the distance with the green glass is the Dag Hammarskjöld Library,
dedicated in 1961.  

The main objective of the renovations is to make the UN greener and more sustainable. Until those renovations, the lobby and lower floor areas are replete with somewhat tattered futuristic looks, if that's not a contradiction in terms, like a kinescope of a fifties-era television program about the solar system. Someone who visited the UN in 1965 might be surprised to encounter on a visit in 2011 that little has changed, except for the superficial worn parts, such as a large water stain on a side wall of the modern atrium.

From a Visit to the UN
Visitors Lobby. The silver object hovering above the display is a model of Sputnik, donated to the UN in 1959.
Compare this photo with the UN's archive photo of the dedication ceremony. (Flickr). 

But considering the critical operational priorities of the United Nations - peacekeeping, securing human rights, and dealing with issues such as land-mines, wartime refugees, nuclear war, radiation, and global warming, subjects covered on the tour and illustrated in exhibits, we'll forgive the housekeeping.

See the website for the United Nations Visitors Centre for complete information on visiting hours and tours.

From a Visit to the UN
UN Plaza with sculpture by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd. Known as "Non Violence," or  "The Knotted Gun." 1980.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Sunday,  April 1, 2011. See more pix from the visit in this set on Flickr WOTBA.

Companion post: A Walk for the Optimistic Modernist: From MoMA to the United Nations
Related posts: Walking for Peace in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza









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