Fact Sheet: United Nations Headquarters
Once the site was agreed to, the next task was to design the Headquarters for the world Organization. Rather than hold an international competition, delegates decided that the United Nations home should be the joint project of leading architects from many countries. Wallace K. Harrison of the United States was appointed chief architect with the title of Director of Planning. A ten-member Board of Design Consultants was selected to assist him, composed of architects nominated by Governments.
The members of the Board were Nikolai G. Bassov (Soviet Union); Gaston Brunfaut (Belgium); Ernest Cormier (Canada); Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier (France); Liang Seu-Cheng (China); Sven Markelius (Sweden); Oscar Niemayer (Brazil); Sir Howard Robertson (United Kingdom); G. A. Soilleux (Australia); and Julio Vilamajo (Uruguay).
The Director and the Board began their work early in 1947 at an office in Rockefeller Center. Some 50 basic designs were created, criticized, analyzed and reworked. The planners took into account the structure of the United Nations with its General Assembly, three main Councils and permanent Secretariat. They had to integrate the needs of delegation and Secretariat personnel.
Because the chosen site was relatively small, a tall building would be required to house offices. The planners determined that the presence of firm bedrock near the surface -- the Manhattan schist on which most New York skyscrapers rest -- would facilitate construction. (The bedrock dips to 60 or more feet below sea level between 46th and 47th Streets -- an area which now lies beneath the broad lawn to the north of the General Assembly Building.)
It was decided to locate the Secretariat Building at the south end of the site to facilitate access to and from public transport systems along 42nd Street, the primary artery of midtown Manhattan. The structure's north-south orientation was selected partly for reasons of appearance and partly because a tall building on an east-west axis would have thrown its shadow over much of the site.
The designers conceived of a park-like plateau, from First Avenue to the river's edge, from which the buildings would rise. To utilize the area right up to the river, they decided that the landscaped expanse and the Conference Building would be cantilevered over the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.