United Nations Headquarters and Plaza
1st Ave between 42nd and 48th Street, International Committee of Architects, Wallace K. Harrison, chairman [1947-53]

Built for an important international organization, this modern complex helped revitalize New York City at the end of the second world war. Located between First Avenue and the East River at the terminus of 42nd Street, the 18-acre site was donated to the newly-formed United Nations by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. To facilitate access to the UN site, Robert Moses (then the city's construction coordinator) diverted traffic from First Avenue. The centerpiece of the UN complex is the Secretariat, an International Style skyscraper based on plans by Le Corbusier, one of the most well-known modern architects. The actual design for the building was carried out by an international team of architects under the direction of Wallace Harrison. This 39-story building was the first major International Style building to be constructed in New York. Typical of the International Style are its simple, geometric form, the absence of historical references, and its glass curtain wall. The architects' use of green glass, marble, and bands of metal detailing are modifications to the modern architectural vocabulary. Located on a highly visible site and surrounded by open spaces, this tower is the only freestanding skyscraper in New York.

The International Style, which originated in Europe, had social and political implications as it was frequently associated with progressive, reform-oriented architects and patrons. Here it symbolizes the international, benevolent functions of the UN but its soaring height makes a specific reference to America and to New York in particular. Although the building makes an interesting formal statement, it is not necessarily functional. The narrow floors are too cramped for the office spaces and its large expanses of glass have caused problems with temperature regulation inside the building. Despite these problems, this building helped to revitalize Midtown and the neighborhoods along the East River during a period when it was most needed.