Oscar Niemeyer and the United Nations Headquarters (1947-1949)

Oscar Niemeyer, the youngest member of the Board of Design in charge of the United Nations’ Headquarters architectural conception died last Thursday, 5 December 2012. Niemeyer, aged 104 years. He left behind him a great legacy that has and will inspire many generations of young architects to come.

To celebrate his work and pay tribute to one of the most audacious architects of his time, the Archives and Records Management Section (ARMS) presents an online exhibition: “Oscar Niemeyer and the United Nations’ Headquarter (1947-1949)”.

“When we make a building for the UN,” said Mr. Niemeyer in 1947, “we must have in mind what is the UN? It is an organization set the nations of the world in a common direction and gives to the world security. I think it is difficult to get this into steel and stone. But if we make something representing the true spirit of our age, of comprehension and solidarity, it will by its own strength give the idea that that is the big political effort, too”.

Niemeyer was the pioneer of modern architecture in Latin America. Rio de Janeiro’s Ministry of Education and Health skyscraper is one of the best illustrations of his early work. Raised on marble stilts, its lower floors receive as much light and air as the upper, while blinds filter the intense light of the equatorial sun.

Niemeyer brought his unique ideas and impetuosity to the team of architects appointed to elaborate the UN Headquarters under the direction of Wallace Harrison as lead architect. Niemeyer collaborated with the French architect Le Corbusier to create the scheme that was ultimately chosen for the final design of the UN headquarters in New York.

Le Corbusier conceived a tall central building that would house all the Secretariat offices. Once this decision was made, discussions between the architects were focused on the relative position of this main skyscraper. During these discussions, Oscar Niemeyer made a significant decision to separate the Assembly Hall from the rest of the complex.

Niemeyer and Le Corbusier combined their previous projects into a single scheme. The differences between these two projects are visible in the exhibition that shows, for the first time, photographs of the clay models (numbers 23 and 32) developed by the two architects.

In memory of Niemeyer’s contribution to the Board of Design’s work and achievements, we chose to publish several photographs of blueprints, clay models, press clippings, aerial views of New York and graphic renderings, all part of the Serge Wolff collection held by ARMS.

This collection, which consists of four large albums and several written documents, is accessible to the public. Please contact ARMS for more details and plan your next visit to explore our historical documents.

Pour voir la version française, cliquez sur ce lien: Oscar Niemeyer et le Siège des Nations Unies (1947-1949).