May 1, 2011

Mission Accomplished: The U.S. Mission To The United Nations Gets A Secure Facelift

At 26 stories tall, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations is practically a vertical bunker. “Security concerns became a constant struggle,” Interior Design Hall of Fame member Robert Siegel notes. Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects was even dissuaded from cladding the tower’s cast-concrete exterior in anything, he adds, “because of the pos­sible shrapnel effect” after a terror blast at the New York location, across from the General Assembly Building. 

Instead, Gwathmey Siegel accessorized the slender, 143,000-square-foot tower with an adjacent lobby structure—3,000 square feet sheltered by an undulating zinc-alloy roof never higher than the tower’s fourth story. The glass curtain wall fronting the lobby offers a clear view of a monumental black Alexander Calder stabile that had stood on the plaza outside the previous mission on the site. Before the death of Siegel’s design partner, Charles Gwathmey, the two decided the Calder would return to a place of honor in a prom­inent corner of the lobby’s sparkling gray terrazzo floor. 

Beyond the glass-fronted lobby, the tower rises windowless for the first seven stories. Above that, Gwathmey Siegel punched rows of windows into the concrete. They’re modest at first but get larger as they ascend, culminating in generous apertures that supply an East River view to the event space that takes up the entire penthouse. Extra light comes from windows around the penthouse’s drumlike roof monitor. Inside it is a dome painted a deep blue, punctuated by a single red line spiraling up from the base to the clerestory—a Sol LeWitt wall drawing that came courtesy of the Foundation for Art and Pre­s­ervation in Embassies.


Shen Milsom Wilke: Audiovisual Consultant. Cosentini Associates: Lighting Consultant, MEP. Severud Associates; FMB: Metalwork. Dimaio Millwork Corporation: Woodwork. BDW Wall Corp.: Drywall Contractor. Krisstone; Town & Country: Flooring Contractors. KP Organization: Painting Contractor. Leon D. Dematteis Construction Corporation: General Contractor. Jacobs: Construction Manager. 

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