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Old August 21st, 2003, 10:28 PM   #1
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An Elite Contest For New UN Building

August 21, 2003

An Elite Contest for a Growing U.N.

By FRED A. BERNSTEIN

A LITTLE more than 50 years ago, the United Nations brought together some of the world's most prominent architects, including Le Corbusier and Oscar Neimeyer, to design its headquarters on the East River. The result is a Modernist icon.

Now the United Nations needs more space, and it has once again turned to some of the world's most prominent architects. The United Nations Development Corporation, an agency created by New York City and State, is narrowing the field in an elite competition to design a 900,000-square-foot building.

Earlier this year, Roy Goodman, the former state senator who heads the development corporation, wrote to all 23 living winners of the Pritzker Prize, which is considered architecture's highest honor. The laureates include Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas and the nonagenarians Philip Johnson and Mr. Neimeyer. Mr. Goodman invited them to compete to design a building on First Avenue at 42nd Street, just south of the existing United Nations complex.

Several of the architects, including Robert Venturi, I. M. Pei and Mr. Gehry, decided not to compete, they or their spokesmen said. Others wanted to, but were eliminated early in the summer. Mr. Johnson's design partner, Alan Ritchie, said: "We wrote a letter, saying we were interested, and enclosed a brochure of our work. We got a `Thanks but no thanks' letter."

Joshua Ramus, a New York-based partner of Mr. Koolhaas, said that he submitted a statement of interest, but that "we weren't selected."

That left four architects in the running: Richard Meier of New York, Fumihiko Maki of Tokyo, Norman Foster of London and Kevin Roche of Hamden, Conn. All are known for creating sleek Modernist buildings.

Mr. Venturi said by telephone from Switzerland that he assumed his lack of experience with skyscrapers would have hurt his chances. His wife and design partner, Denise Scott Brown, added: "You get attached to what you design, and then you're terribly disappointed."

Told who the four finalists were, Ms. Scott Brown said: "We made the right decision. If they want those people, they wouldn't want us."

Employees of Mr. Roche and Mr. Foster said they were not at liberty to discuss the competition. The development corporation referred calls to Janel Patterson, a spokeswoman for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, who said she could not comment. But Mr. Maki and Mr. Meier said they were working on designs, which are to be be reviewed in early October.

"It won't be easy to accommodate 900,000 square feet of office and conference space on the site," said Mr. Maki, who is best known for museums in Japan and a cultural center in San Francisco. "But architects are an optimistic species."

The United Nations site is now occupied by the Robert Moses Playground and a bulky air vent for the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. And some members of the community object to the loss of the playground. But Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a director of the United Nations Development Corporation, predicted that a proposed land swap would give the community a park far superior to the current one, because "there will be less carbon monoxide."

That, however, will not solve the problem for the four architects. Mr. Meier, who has designed a pair of new apartment buildings in the West Village but is best known for the Getty Center, his modern acropolis in Los Angeles, said he had considered talking to Mr. Maki, Mr. Roche and Mr. Foster about proposing an alternate site. But he said that the United Nations had not encouraged contact among the architects. "They've gone out of their way to keep each of us in our own stable," he said, adding that each architect had toured the site separately.

The new building would allow the United Nations to consolidate its staff. Occupants of the 50-year-old Secretariat building would move into the new one while the Secretariat undergoes a badly needed renovation. Later, United Nations offices in a variety of buildings in Midtown would move to the new tower.

Mr. Meier enters the competition with some trepidation. "The energy that goes into the process is enormous, and it's all on our part," he said. "And who knows what they're going to do?"

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
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Old August 23rd, 2003, 10:13 AM   #2
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Very, very interesting article. This is exciting news. My vote right now, pre-proposals, has to go to either Meier or Roche. Foster has lost his spark, and I don't know much about Maki. I will definately keep an eye on this project.

I was a little disappointed that Venturi didn't even try, simply because he'd never had experience designing a skyscraper. Neither had Le Corbusier, and he was the primary architect of the original UN tower. For an architecht, part of a supposedly "optimistic breed," Venturi sounds like quite the downer.
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Old August 23rd, 2003, 10:17 AM   #3
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I would go for tearing up and deals and contracts and kicking the UN off of very valuable land. It'll probably be another modernist peice of crap, as usual. All of their buildings always suck. They claim that it's "artistic", but it's not, it's just cheap, and it's stupid.

Just like the UN.
 
Old August 25th, 2003, 06:42 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by UrbanLandscape

I would go for tearing up and deals and contracts and kicking the UN off of very valuable land. It'll probably be another modernist peice of crap, as usual. All of their buildings always suck. They claim that it's "artistic", but it's not, it's just cheap, and it's stupid.

Just like the UN.
You can't judge a skycraper without seeing it!

Besides they wouldn't hire such architects to design a building that will look as bad as the existing one.
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Old August 26th, 2003, 06:32 PM   #5
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I agree....the U.N. building is a classic....and should now be torn down.
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Old August 27th, 2003, 01:55 AM   #6
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Time to move the UN to Toronto.

- Not just my opinion but the idea of a Toronto City Councilor.

For the UN, the cost of operation in Toronto would be so much cheaper - shaving millions for every member nation.

Toronto is home to virtually every single consulate in the World. So member states would have to do very little in terms of getting back to business.

Toronto has acres of portland that could be used.

I think the UN should seriously look at setting up shop elsewhere for economic reasons.
 
Old August 27th, 2003, 11:42 PM   #7
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Moving it to Toronto? Have some Canadians gone stupid or is it just me?
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Last edited by GreatSky; February 16th, 2004 at 02:38 AM.
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Old August 30th, 2003, 02:12 AM   #8
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Let's hope in this single architect or design collaboration, that a wonderful new landmark is born in the great city of New York.
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Old August 30th, 2003, 09:12 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by GreatSky

Moving it to Toronto? Have all the Canadians gone stupid or is it just me?
Noooo, come on lets not start calling names, the kid wants his hometown to have the un... you can have it toronto really, im serious, god greatsky you know what traffic is like whenever something happens i hate that! i dont care for the building to tell you the truth.. one of my least favorites... urban i don't think that will ever happen, sadly.. if the un moves, im sorry but it should go to either london or....????? nope thats it london and new york, it must take alot to host the united nations, more than toronto has to offer i think... sorrrrry, but you can have the traffic if you want it.. hey any designs of the new building?
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Old January 25th, 2004, 06:28 AM   #10
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Hey, I wouldn't mind the UN going to Toronto. That way, all the anti-U.S. protesters can assemble there instead of clogging up traffic at First Avenue.
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Old January 25th, 2004, 01:20 PM   #11
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NYGirl, while they are at it, they should demolish or move Madison Square Garden. Right after an event, as you should know, traffic is a bitch.

Switching subjects, I for one, like the UN in New York City's borders. It adds yet another first class organization to New York's laundery list. I just don't like the building it is in.
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Old January 26th, 2004, 03:04 AM   #12
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I agree. Having the UN, even if you dont like it, is a great accet for a city. It elevates NY ever higher on the global totam pole. I say keep it but start the complex over again.
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Old January 29th, 2004, 06:54 PM   #13
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the UN should either be in ny, london or geneva. probably geneva would be the best place, despite it being boring, switzerland is neutral.

i quite like the UN in new york though...despite the whole 'liberty' and freedom being espoused by bush and co at the moment, many around the world regard new york as a city of the world, a city of immigrants and a city built by immigrants.

obviously as a londoner id prefer it in london but new york is certainly a worthy home!

who will pay for the new building though?
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Old January 30th, 2004, 04:29 AM   #14
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A funny story about the UN. A couple of German people came over visiting our house in NY, and before giving them tours and stuff, we showed them a few postcards. To each they went ooo" and "nice" and "beautiful", but then they saw the UN, they said, "It's not beautiful. It's geometry.".
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Old January 30th, 2004, 04:32 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by CG5

Very, very interesting article. This is exciting news. My vote right now, pre-proposals, has to go to either Meier or Roche. Foster has lost his spark, and I don't know much about Maki. I will definately keep an eye on this project.

I was a little disappointed that Venturi didn't even try, simply because he'd never had experience designing a skyscraper. Neither had Le Corbusier, and he was the primary architect of the original UN tower. For an architecht, part of a supposedly "optimistic breed," Venturi sounds like quite the downer.
True that, Van Allen never really desgned skyscrapers, but Chrysler... enough said.
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Old February 14th, 2004, 05:58 PM   #16
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Here's a much needed update...

NY Times

Japanese Architect Wins U.N. Competition

By JULIE V. IOVINE
Published: February 14, 2004

Fumihiko Maki, a Japanese architect known for classical modern designs executed with a craftsman-like approach to technology, has won the competition to design an additional building for the United Nations.

His selection was reported Tuesday by The New York Sun. Officials at the United Nations Development Corporation, which develops and manages the organization's office space, said a formal announcement is not expected until late this month.

Mr. Maki said by phone yesterday that he admired the slender silhouette of the United Nations Secretariat building. "The thin slab is something quite unique because in America office buildings tend to be large and squarish," said Mr. Maki, who has also been chosen to design the new office buildings at the World Trade Center site.

Construction of the United Nations building, on First Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets, will allow the current complex, just north of the site, to be expanded and renovated.

The proposed design is "glassy, white and sheer but elegant," said Edward Rubin, a member of the selection jury and chairman of the land-use committee of Community Board 6, which represents the neighborhood that includes the United Nations complex. Mr. Maki and his firm, Maki & Associates, will be working in partnership with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill on the 35-story building, which is expected to cost about $330 million and be completed by 2008.

The United Nations complex, completed in 1952, now needs both expansion and renovation, including the removal of asbestos and lead paint. Once the new, 900,000-square-foot building is completed, it will be used by the General Assembly, the Secretariat and their staffs. They will move back when the renovation is complete; the new building will then house United Nations employees now working at other Midtown locations.

The Robert Moses Playground and a ventilation shaft for the Queens-Midtown Tunnel are now located on the development site. Community Board 6 supports the development as long as the United Nations replaces parts of the 1.3-acre playground that will be lost, Mr. Rubin said. At risk are a soccer field and a blacktopped surface where a roller hockey league has played for more than 20 years.

The United Nations has agreed to pay for a $100,000 esplanade on the East River, said Michael Sherman, a spokesman for the development corporation.

But paths for strolling are not the same as playing fields, said Mr. Rubin. "We take our active space very seriously,'' he said. "We want a suitable replacement and we want it as close to the existing Robert Moses park as possible.''

The competition was open only to winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest honor in the profession. The other contestants were Kevin Roche of Hamden, Conn., and Lord Norman Foster of London. Richard Meier, a New York architect, withdrew from the competition last summer. "I told them it's the wrong site," he said. "All the requirements for size, traffic, security, access - everything cannot be met on that site."

The selection of Mr. Maki suggests an effort to honor the original building's reputation as an icon of International Style modernism. Mr. Maki's approach to building combines subdued refinements with technological flourishes, as seen in the swooping steel roof of the Fujisawa Municipal Gymnasium in suburban Tokyo, which suggests both an ancient warrior helmet and a hovering spaceship.

Mr. Maki said, "The U.N. reminded us that whatever we did we had to respect the existing building and not make an addition that is too aggressive or too iconographic, but rather friendly and quiet."
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Old March 23rd, 2004, 09:56 PM   #17
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Here's a map of the area, the new building's site is P7.

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Old March 24th, 2004, 03:06 AM   #18
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They shoulda gone for a taller building. A 60 story tower woulda looked real nice on the site.
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Old March 24th, 2004, 05:42 AM   #19
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Right on the river its to easy of a target. Especialy for planes and RPGs fired from boats or Queens. Though I wouldnt mind a 60+ story tower.
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Old March 25th, 2004, 06:20 AM   #20
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What? Rocket-propelled grenades fired from Queens? That's 1,700 feet away! And with all these police and other boats in the water, firing it from a boat in daylight is virtually impossible.

That said, I don't want the UN moved out of New York. We already lost the WTC Twin Towers to 9-11, we don't need any government expelling the organization from the world's most culturally diverse city (although London and Toronto are also pretty multicultural).
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