21018 United Nations Headquarters

  • Product no longer in production


  • Location: New York City
  • Architect: International team, led by Wallace K. Harrison and including Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer
  • Style: Modernist, International
  • Materials: Aluminum, glass and Vermont marble
  • Size: 39 stories above ground, Secretariat Building
  • Year: Begun 1947, cornerstone laid 1949


Standing on the eastern shore of Manhattan, on the banks of New York City’s East River, the United Nations Headquarters has become an acclaimed modernist architectural landmark. In an ambitious attempt to match the United Nations’ own spirit of international cooperation, it was created through the collaborative effort of a multinational team of leading architects that included, amongst others, Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier.

As the chosen site was relatively small, bounded on one side by the East River Drive (later the Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive) and on the other by the East River itself, it was obvious that a tall building would be required to house all of the offices. Niemeyer’s 39-story Secretariat Building was controversial in its time, but has since become an icon for the modernist style of the complex.

The exterior facings of the 550-foot tall (167.6 m) Secretariat Building were made exclusively of aluminum, glass and marble. Wide areas of green-tinted glass were unbroken by conventional setbacks. In contrast, the windowless north and south facades of the building were faced with 2,000 tons (1814 metric tons) of Vermont marble.

In keeping with the international character of the United Nations, materials for the Headquarters were selected from many lands. Limestone for the facings of the Assembly and Conference Buildings came from the United Kingdom; marble from Italy; office furniture and shelving from France; chairs and fabrics from Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic) and Greece; carpets from England, France and Scotland. In addition, tables were purchased from Switzerland and various woods for interior finishing came from Belgium, Canada, Cuba, Guatemala, the Philippines, Norway and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).


Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho was born in the city of Rio de Janeiro on December 15, 1907. He graduated with a BA in architecture from the city’s National School of Fine Arts in 1934 and began working without payment in a local architecture studio. In 1936, Niemeyer met Le Corbusier, who became a strong influence and teacher.

Regarded as one of Modernism’s greatest luminaries, Niemeyer was famous for his use of abstract forms and curves. His buildings are characterized by an elegance and harmony, often made possible by his pioneering work with reinforced concrete.

“I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves.” - Oscar Niemeyer