The United Nations, formed in 1945 right after World War II, has been based in New York City since 1951. Their distinctive "Secretariat" Headquarters Building sits on 18 acres along the East River between 42nd and 48th Streets. The sleek, glass-curtained building is one of the most popular attractions in the city.
The United Nations came into being after World War II, in 1945, promoted by the Allied nations -- France, Great Britain, USSR, and the United States. It began with 51 member nations and replaced the ineffective League of Nations. Today, virtually all sovereign nations belong to the UN. Only Vatican City, Palestine, Niue and Cook Islands, and Taiwan do not belong. (Vatican City is an official observer.)
The UN is composed of administrative bodies, including the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, and the International Court of Justice. In addition, the organization has several interdisciplinary agencies, such as WHO (World Health Organization), UNICEF (United National International Children's Emergency Fund), the World Bank, and the IMF (International Monetary Fund). It is these agencies and the ability of the UN to deploy peacekeeping forces that have helped the organization succeed where the League of Nations could not.
The Headquarters Building
The UN Headquarters Building, dubbed the "Secretariat", sits on an 18-acre plot of land, nestled along the East River between 42nd and 48th Sts. The land was purchased with an $8.5 million donation by financier, John D. Rockefeller Jr. The United Nations complex is international territory, not part of New York, and has its own postal service, security, and fire-fighting unit.
The Headquarters Building was designed by an international team, including the French architect, Le Corbusier; Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer, and the American architectural firm of Harrison and Abramovitz. The 505-foot tall, 39-floor building is made of large curtains of green-tinted glass with white marble end walls. The street side of the complex is adorned with a row of flags, one from each of the member nations. The UN complex employs over 4500 staff members from 200 nations.
Visiting the United Nations
Visitors are welcome to explore the changing exhibits in the United Nations lobby at no charge. The exhibits reflect the work of the organization as well as the cultures of the member nations. In addition, visitors can take a guided tour of the headquarters building. Tours are given seven days a week, except for major holidays and when the UN is having a conference. The tour takes about 45 minutes and includes meeting rooms; the extensive UN art collection, donated by the nations of the UN; and the General Assembly Hall. Tour guides come from 31 different nations and add to the international flair of the tour.
The tour ends at the UN Postal Centre, where guests can buy special UN stamps as well as visit the UN gift shop, bookstore, and relax at the coffee shop. Tours are $12 per adult with discounts offered for seniors, students, and children 5-18. The tour is not suitable for children under 5 years of age. Over 37 million people have visited the UN Headquarters Building since it opened in 1951.
The UN is easily reached via bus, subway, and taxi from all over the New York City area. Driving is discouraged, as the UN does not have a public parking lot. Please note, also, that the UN is a non-smoking facility.