For the next four years, the United Nations' nerve center, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office, will be situated in a squat, three-story, corrugated steel building on the U.N.'s north lawn that looks like a cross between a suburban big-box store and a high-security lockup facility.
Bantánamo, a nickname embraced by U.N. staffers, has taken much of the grandeur out of diplomacy at the United Nations. It's a serious comedown for U.N. civil servants and delegates who have been grinding away in the cause of peace in one of New York City's architectural landmarks, the glass and marble U.N. headquarters tower and the U.N. General Assembly hall -- now undergoing a $1.87 billion renovation.Actually, the UN has managed to become diminished all on its own, and its premises have nothing to do with it. That's why it will remain a lowdown, shunken husk, even when it moves lock, stock and despot-rep into its lavish new digs.
"The morale among the people in the secretary general's office has never been lower," a U.N. official who works in the new building told Turtle Bay. "Everybody is profoundly depressed and demoralized because they are put into windowless, airless cubicles that are completely inhumane."
Some diplomats say the scaled-down, no-frills quarters send just the right message for an organization that has been struggling to shake off a reputation as wasteful. "It's stern and pragmatic but it's by no means ostentatious," said Heraldo Muñoz, Chile's U.N. ambassador, adding that governments, principally the United States, have unfairly criticized the organization in the past and starved it of cash. "Being in this temporary shelter reflects the state of the U.N. I feel we should be able to put it up with it for a few years."
The original U.N. headquarters compound was built in the early 1950s by a committee of internationally renowned architects, including the Swiss-French modernist Le Corbusier and Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer, who intended it to serve as a temple to international peacemaking, elevating the role of U.N. civil servants and delegates to a kind of diplomatic priesthood.
"Every time I come into that building I feel a sense of awe," said Stephen Schlesinger, author of The Act of Creation, which chronicles the founding of the United Nations. "It's now been reduced to a pile of shipping crates. This will diminish the United Nations."...