|Headquarters of the United Nations|
|Alternative names||Headquarters of the United Nations|
French: Siège des Nations unies
Spanish: Sede de las Naciones Unidas
|Architectural style||International Style|
|Address||760 United Nations Plaza |
Manhattan, New York City, New York 10017
|September 14, 1948|
|Completed||October 9, 1952|
|Cost||$65 million |
($610,000,000 adjusted for inflation)
|Height||155.3 meters (510 ft)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Board of designers mediated by Harrison & Abramovitz|
|Main contractor||Fuller, Turner, Slattery, and Walsh|
The United Nations is headquartered in New York City, in a complex designed by a board of architects led by Wallace Harrison, and built by the architectural firm Harrison & Abramovitz. The complex has served as the official headquarters of the United Nations since its completion in 1952. It is located in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan, on 17 to 18 acres (6.9 to 7.3 ha) of grounds overlooking the East River. Its borders are First Avenue on the west, East 42nd Street to the south, East 48th Street on the north and the East River to the east. The term "Turtle Bay" is occasionally used as a metonym for the UN headquarters or for the United Nations as a whole.
The headquarters holds the seats of the principal organs of the UN, including the General Assembly and the Security Council, but excluding the International Court of Justice, which is seated in the Hague. The United Nations has three additional, subsidiary, regional headquarters, or headquarters districts. These were opened in Geneva (Switzerland) in 1946, Vienna (Austria) in 1980, and Nairobi (Kenya) in 1996. These adjunct offices help represent UN interests, facilitate diplomatic activities, and enjoy certain extraterritorial privileges, but do not contain the seats of major organs.
Although it is situated in New York City, the land occupied by the United Nations Headquarters and the spaces of buildings that it rents are under the sole administration of the United Nations and not the U.S. government. They are technically extraterritorial through a treaty agreement with the U.S. government. However, in exchange for local police, fire protection and other services, the United Nations agrees to acknowledge most local, state, and federal laws.
None of the United Nations' 15 specialized agencies (such as UNESCO) are located at the headquarters. However, some "autonomous subsidiary organs", such as UNICEF, have their headquarters at the UNHQ.
The headquarters of the United Nations occupies a site beside the East River, on between 17 and 18 acres (6.9 and 7.3 ha)[a] of land purchased from the real estate developer William Zeckendorf Sr. At the time, the site was part of Turtle Bay, which contained slaughterhouses and tenement buildings, as well as the original Eberhard Faber Pencil Factory. By the 1910s, there was also a pencil factory and a gas company building in Turtle Bay, on the site of the current UN headquarters. The development of Sutton Place and Beekman Place, north of the current UN site, came in the 1920s. A yacht club on the site was proposed in 1925, but it proved to be too expensive.
In 1946, Zeckendorf purchased the land with the intention to create an "X City" on the site. This complex was to contain an office building and a hotel, each 57 stories tall, and an entertainment complex between them. The X City would have also had smaller apartment and office towers. However, the $8.5 million ($72 million in 2018) for X City never materialized, and Nelson Rockefeller purchased an option for Zeckendorf's waterfront land in Turtle Bay. The purchase was funded by Nelson's father, John D. Rockefeller Jr.. The Rockefeller family owned the Tudor City Apartments across First Avenue from the Zeckendorf site. The city, in turn, spent $5 million ($43 million in 2018) on clearing the land.
While the United Nations had dreamed of constructing an independent city for its new world capital, multiple obstacles soon forced the organization to downsize their plans. They ultimately decided to build on Rockefeller's East River plot, since the land was free and the land's owners were well known. The diminutive site on the East River necessitated a Rockefeller Center-type vertical complex, thus, it was a given that the Secretariat would be housed in a tall office tower. During daily meetings from February to June 1947, the collaborative team produced at least 45 designs and variations. Rather than hold a competition for the design of the facilities for the headquarters, the UN decided to commission a multinational team of leading architects to collaborate on the design. Harrison was named as Director of Planning, and a Board of Design Consultants was composed of architects, planners and engineers nominated by member governments. The board consisted of N. D. Bassov of the Soviet Union, Gaston Brunfaut (Belgium), Ernest Cormier (Canada), Le Corbusier (France), Liang Seu-cheng (China), Sven Markelius (Sweden), Oscar Niemeyer (Brazil), Howard Robertson (United Kingdom), G. A. Soilleux (Australia), and Julio Vilamajó (Uruguay).
Niemeyer met with Corbusier at the latter's request shortly after the former arrived in New York City. Corbusier had already been lobbying hard to promote his own scheme 23, and thus, requested that Niemeyer not submit a design, lest he further confuse the contentious meetings of the Board of Design. Instead, he asked the younger architect to assist him with his project. Niemeyer began to absent himself from the meetings. Only after Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz repeatedly pressed him to participate did Niemeyer agree to submit his own project. Niemeyer's project 32 was finally chosen, but as opposed to Corbusier's project 23, which consisted of one building containing both the Assembly Hall and the councils in the center of the site (as it was hierarchically the most important building), Niemeyer's plan split the councils from the Assembly Hall, locating the first alongside the river, and the second on the right side of the secretariat. This would not split the site, but on the contrary, would create a large civic square.
After much discussion, Harrison, who coordinated the meetings, determined that a design based on Niemeyer's project 32 and Le Corbusier's project 23 would be developed for the final project. Le Corbusier's project 23 consisted of a large block containing both the Assembly Hall and the Council Chambers near the center of the site with the Secretariat tower emerging as a slab from the south. Niemeyer's plan was closer to that actually constructed, with a distinctive General Assembly building, a long low horizontal block housing the other meeting rooms, and a tall tower for the Secretariat. The complex as built, however, repositioned Niemeyer's General Assembly building to the north of this tripartite composition. This plan included a public plaza as well. The UN headquarters was originally proposed alongside a grand boulevard leading eastward from Third Avenue or Lexington Avenue, between 46th Street to the south and 49th Street to the north. These plans were eventually downsized into Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, a small plaza on the south side of 47th Street east of Second Avenue.
Wallace Harrison's assistant, architect George Dudley, later stated: "It literally took our breath away to see the simple plane of the site kept open from First Avenue to the River, only three structures on it, standing free, a fourth lying low behind them along the river's edge...[Niemeyer] also said, 'beauty will come from the buildings being in the right space!'. The comparison between Le Corbusier's heavy block and Niemeyer's startling, elegantly articulated composition seemed to me to be in everyone's mind..." Later on, Corbusier came once again to Niemeyer and asked him to reposition the Assembly Hall back to the center of the site. Such modification would destroy Niemeyer's plans for a large civic square. However, he finally decided to accept the modification: "I felt [Corbusier] would like to do his project, and he was the master. I do not regret my decision." Together, they submitted the scheme 23-32, which was built and is what can be seen today. Along with suggestions from the other members of the Board of Design Consultants, this was developed into project 42G. This late project was built with some reductions and other modifications.
Many cities vied for the honor of hosting the UN Headquarters site, prior to the selection of New York City. The selection of the East River site came after over a year of protracted study and consideration of many sites in the United States. A powerful faction among the delegates advocated returning to the former League of Nations complex in Geneva, Switzerland. Suggestions came from far and wide including such fanciful suggestions as a ship on the high seas to housing the entire complex in a single tall building. Amateur architects submitted designs, local governments offered park areas, but the determined group of New York City boosters that included such luminaries as Grover Whalen, Thomas J. Watson, and Nelson Rockefeller, coordinated efforts with the powerful Coordinator of Construction, Robert Moses, and Mayor William O'Dwyer, to assemble acceptable interim facilities. Their determined courtship of the UN Interim Site committee resulted in the early meetings taking place at multiple locations throughout the New York area.
Sites in San Francisco (including the Presidio) and Marin County in California; St. Louis, Missouri; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Fairfield County, Connecticut; Westchester County and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in New York; Tuskahoma, Oklahoma; the Black Hills of South Dakota; Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan; and a site on Navy Island straddling the U.S.-Canada border were considered as potential sites for the UN Headquarters. San Francisco, where the UN Headquarters delegation was held, was favored by Australia, New Zealand, China, and the Philippines due to the city's proximity to their countries. The UN and many of its delegates seriously considered Philadelphia for the headquarters; the city offered to donate land in several select sites, including Fairmount Park, Andorra, and a Center City location which would have placed the headquarters along a mall extending from Independence Hall to Penn's Landing. The Manhattan site was ultimately chosen over Philadelphia after John D. Rockefeller, Jr., offered to donate $8.5 million to purchase the land along the East River.; Robert Moses and Rockefeller Sr. convinced Nelson Rockefeller to buy the land after the Rockefeller's Kykuit estate in Mount Pleasant, New York was deemed too isolated from Manhattan.
In 1945-46 London hosted the first meeting of the General Assembly in Methodist Central Hall, and the Security Council in Church House. The third and sixth General Assembly sessions, in 1948 and 1951, met in the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. Prior to the construction of the current complex, the UN was headquartered at a temporary location at the Sperry Corporation's offices in Lake Success, New York, an eastern suburb of the city in Nassau County on Long Island, from 1946 to 1952. The Security Council also held sessions on what was then the Bronx campus of Hunter College (now the site of Lehman College) from March to August 1946. The UN also met at what is now the Queens Museum, built as the New York City Pavilion for the 1939 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The General Assembly met at what had previously been the ice skating rink, and the Long Island Rail Road reopened the former World's Fair station as United Nations station. After the UN moved to its new Manhattan headquarters, the building was remodeled and briefly used as a pavilion for the 1964 New York World's Fair, after which it reverted to use as a skating rink until 2008, when the entire building began a long-term renovation to create expanded museum facilities.
Per an agreement with the city, the buildings met some but not all local fire safety and building codes. In April 1948, U.S. President Harry S. Truman requested that Congress approve an interest-free loan of $65 million in order to fund construction. The U.S. House of Representatives authorized the loan on August 6, 1948, on the condition that the UN repay the loan in twelve monthly installments between July 1951 and July 1952. Of the $65 million, $25 million was to be made available immediately from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. However, the full loan was initially withheld due to a case regarding UN employee Valentin A. Gubitchev and a KGB spy Judith Coplon, who had been charged with espionage and were set to go on trial in March 1949. The House was loath to distribute the full $65 million because the government was concerned that the UN's proposed headquarters would grant diplomatic immunity to the two individuals. The UN used the Reconstruction Finance Corp.'s $25 million as a stopgap measure. The resulting case circumscribed the immunity of UN employees. To save money, the UN considered retaining an existing building on the Manhattan site, which had been slated for demolition once the headquarters was completed. Until 1950, the UN refused to accept private donations for the headquarters' construction, citing a policy that prohibited them from accepting donations.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the initial buildings occurred on September 14, 1948. A bucket of earth was removed to mark the start of construction for the basement of the 39-story Secretariat Building. Fuller, Turner, Slattery, and Walsh, a consortium of four contracting companies from Manhattan and Queens, were selected to construct the Secretariat Building, as well as the foundations for the remaining buildings. In October, Harrison requested that its 58 members and the 48 U.S. states participate in designing the interiors of the building's conference rooms. It was believed that if enough countries designed their own rooms, the UN would be able to reduce its own expenditures. The headquarters were originally supposed to be completed in 1951, with the first occupants moving into the Secretariat Building in 1950. However, in November, New York City's construction coordinator Robert Moses reported that construction was two months behind schedule. By that time, 60% of the headquarters' site had been excavated. The same month, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously voted to formally thank the national, state, and city governments for their role in building the headquarters. The formal $23.8 million contract for the Secretariat Building was awarded in January 1949.
A prayer space for people of all religions was announced on April 18, 1949. Until then, the UN had avoided the subject of a prayer room, because it had been difficult, if not impossible, to create a prayer room that could accommodate the various religions. Two days after this announcement, workers erected the first steel beam for the Secretariat Building, to little official fanfare. The consortium working on the Secretariat Building announced that 13,000 tons of steel would eventually be used in the building, and that the steelwork would consist of a strong wind bracing system because the 72-by-287-foot (22 by 87 m) structure was so narrow. The flag of the United Nations was raised above the first beam as a demonstration for the many spectators who witnessed the first beam's erection. The Secretariat Building was to be completed no later than January 1, 1951, and if the consortium of Fuller, Turner, Slattery, and Walsh exceeded that deadline, they had to pay a minimum penalty of $2,500 per day to the UN. To reduce construction costs, the complex's planners downsized the Secretariat Building from 42 stories to 39 stories.
The cornerstone of the headquarters was originally supposed to be laid on April 10, 1949. However, in March of that year, Secretary-General Trygve Lie delayed the ceremony after learning that Truman would not present to officiate the cornerstone laying. Seven months later, on October 11, Truman accepted an invitation to attend a cornerstone-laying ceremony, which was planned to occur on October 24. At the ceremony, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey laid the headquarters' cornerstone.
In June 1949, UN officials wrote a letter to the American Bridge Company in which they expressed intent to buy 10,000 to 11,000 tons of steel. This steel would be used to build the rest of the complex, as well as a deck over FDR Drive on the headquarters' eastern side. To fit in with the accelerated schedule of construction, the steel would have to be delivered by September. The project also included a four-lane, $2.28 million vehicular tunnel under First Avenue so that traffic could bypass the headquarters when the UN was in session. The tunnel started construction on August 1, 1949. The tunnel involved two years of planning due to its complexity. Property inside Tudor City, just west of the headquarters, was also acquired so that two streets near the UN headquarters could be widened. The expanded streets were expected to speed up construction. In October 1949, contracts were awarded for the construction of two vehicular ramps over the FDR Drive: one to the north of the UN headquarters, and one to the south. Another contract to redevelop 42nd Street, a major corridor leading to the UN headquarters, was awarded in December of that year.
The Secretariat Building was ceremonially topped out in October 1949 after its steel framework had been completed. The UN flag was hoisted atop the roof of the newly completed steel frame in celebration of this event. The installation of the Secretariat Building's interior furnishings proceeded quickly so that the building could be open in January 1951. In February 1950, the UN invited companies from 37 countries to bid on $2 million worth of furniture for the Secretariat Building. A month later, the UN announced that it would also be accepting all donations from private citizens, entities, or organizations. This marked a reversal from their previous policy of rejecting all donations. A $1.7 million steel contract on the United Nations General Assembly building, the last structure to be built, was awarded in April 1950. At the time, the building was not expected to be complete until 1952 due to a steelworkers' strike, which had delayed the production of steel. The first pieces of the platform over the FDR Drive was lifted into place the same month. In June 1950, Norway proposed that it decorate and outfit the complex's Security Council chamber, and the UN unofficially accepted the Norwegian offer.
In December 1949, Robert Moses proposed placing a playground inside the UN headquarters, but this plan was initially rejected. The UN subsequently reversed its position in April 1951, and Lie agreed to build a 100-by-140-foot (30 by 43 m) playground at the northeast corner of the headquarters site. However, the UN did reject an unusual "model playground" proposal for that site, instead choosing to construct a play area similar to others found around New York City.
The first 450 UN employees started working at the Secretariat Building on August 22, 1950. The United Nations officially moved into the Secretariat Building on January 8, 1951, by which time 3,300 employees occupied the building. At the time, much of the Secretariat Building was still unfinished, and the bulk of the UN's operations still remained at Lake Success. A centralized phone-communications system was built to facilitate communications within the complex. The UN had completely moved out of its Lake Success headquarters by May. The construction of the General Assembly Building was delayed due to a shortage of limestone for the building, which in turn resulted from a heavy snow at the British limestone quarries that were supplying the building's limestone. The erection of the building's framework began in February 1952. The Manhattan headquarters was declared complete on October 10, 1952. The cost of construction was reported to be on budget at $65 million. In 1953, twenty-one nations donated furnishings or offered to decorate the UN headquarters.
A new library building for the UN headquarters was proposed in 1952. The existing UN library, a 6-story structure formerly owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), was too small. The NYCHA building could only hold 170,000 books, whereas the UN wanted to host at least 350,000 to 400,000 books in its library. The new facility was slated to cost $3 million. By 1955, the collection was housed in the Secretariat Building and held 250,000 volumes in "every language of the world", according to The New York Times. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library Building, designed by Harrison and Abramovitz, was officially dedicated in November 1961.
The gardens at the United Nations headquarters were originally closed to the public, but were made publicly accessible in 1958.
By 1962, the United Nations' operations had grown so much that the headquarters could not house all of the organization's operations. As a result, the UN announced its intention to rent office space nearby. The Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) moved to leased office space in 2 United Nations Plaza three years later. The East River-Turtle Bay Fund, a civic group, proposed that the United Nations purchase a 3-acre (1.2 ha) tract located to the south of the headquarters, on the site of the Robert Moses Playground and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel ventilation building between 41st and 42nd Streets. A radical proposal for redeveloping the area around the UN headquarters was proposed in 1968. It entailed closing First Avenue between 43rd and 45th Streets; constructing a new visitor's center with two 44-story towers between 43rd and 45th Streets; and connecting the new visitor's center with the existing headquarters via a public park. This plan was presented to the New York City government in 1969, but was ultimately not acted upon.
The UN staff continued to grow, and by 1969, the organization had 3,500 staff working in the New York headquarters. The UN rented additional space at 485 Lexington Avenue and in the Chrysler East complex, located three blocks west of the headquarters. It also announced its intention to build a new storage building between 41st and 42nd Streets. None of these properties would receive the extraterritorial status conferred on the original headquarters.
On July 28, 2007, UN officials announced the complex would undergo a $1 billion renovation starting in the fall. Swedish firm Skanska AB won a bid to overhaul the buildings which including the Conference, General Assembly and Secretariat buildings. The renovations, which were the first since the complex opened in 1950, were expected to take about 7 years to complete. When completed the complex is also expected to be more energy efficient and have improved security. A temporary $140 million "North Lawn Building" was built to house the United Nations' "critical operations" while renovations proceeded. Work began on May 5, 2008, but the project was delayed for a while. By 2009 the cost of the work had risen from $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion with some estimates saying it would take up to $3 billion. Officials hoped the renovated buildings would achieve a LEED Silver rating. Despite some delays and rises in construction costs, renovation on the entire UN headquarters progressed rapidly. By 2012, the installation of the new glass facade of the Secretariat Building was completed. The new glass wall retained the look of the original facade but is more energy efficient. The renovation of the Secretariat building was completed, and the UN staff moved into the new building in July 2012.
Alternative sites were considered as temporary holding locations during renovations. In 2005, officials investigated establishing a new temporary site be created at the old Lake Success location. Brooklyn was also suggested as a temporary site. Another alternative for a temporary headquarters or a new permanent facility was the World Trade Center site. Once again, these plans met resistance both within the UN and from the United States and New York governments and were abandoned.
By September 2015, the renovations were nearly complete but the cost had risen to $2.15 billion. Demolition of the North Lawn Building began in January 2016. The building was replaced with an open plaza, and most of its materials were to be recycled.
The UN identifies Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish as its six official languages. Delegates speaking in any of these languages will have their words simultaneously interpreted into all of the others, and attendees are provided with headphones through which they can hear the interpretations. A delegate is allowed to make a statement in a non-official language, but must provide either an interpreter or a written copy of his/her remarks translated into an official language. English and French are the working languages of the United Nations Secretariat, as most of the daily communication within the Secretariat and most of the signs in the UN headquarters building are in those languages.
The site of the UN headquarters has extraterritoriality status. This affects some law enforcement where UN rules override the laws of New York City, but it does not give immunity to those who commit crimes there. In addition, the United Nations Headquarters remains under the jurisdiction and laws of the United States, although a few members of the UN staff have diplomatic immunity and so cannot be prosecuted by local courts unless the diplomatic immunity is waived by the Secretary-General. In 2005, Secretary-General Kofi Annan waived the immunity of Benon Sevan, Aleksandr Yakovlev, and Vladimir Kuznetsov in relation to the Oil-for-Food Programme, and all were charged in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Benon Sevan later fled the United States to Cyprus, while Aleksandr Yakovlev and Vladimir Kuznetsov decided to stand trial.
United Nations Security officers are generally responsible for security within the UN Headquarters. They are equipped with weapons and handcuffs and are sometimes mistaken for NYPD officers due to the agencies' similar uniforms. The NYPD's 17th Precinct patrols the area around and near the complex, but may only formally enter the actual UN headquarters at the request of the Secretary-General.
Journalists reporting from the complex often use "United Nations" rather than "New York City" as the identification of their location in recognition of the extraterritoriality status.
The complex has a street address of United Nations Headquarters, New York, NY, 10017, United States. For security reasons, all mail sent to this address is sterilized, so items that may be degraded can be sent by courier. The United Nations Postal Administration issues stamps, which must be used on stamped mail sent from the building.
For award purposes, amateur radio operators consider the UN headquarters a separate "entity" under some award programs such as DXCC. For communications, UN organizations have their own internationally recognized ITU prefix, 4U. However, only contacts made with the UN Headquarters in New York, and the ITU count as separate entities. Other UN organizations such as the World Bank count for the state or country they are located in. The UN Staff Recreation Council operates amateur radio station 4U1UN, and occasionally use special callsigns with prefix 4U and ending in UN to commemorate various events at the UN.
The complex includes a number of major buildings. While the Secretariat building is most predominantly featured in depictions of the headquarters, it also includes the domed General Assembly building, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, as well as the Conference and Visitors Center, which is situated between the General Assembly and Secretariat buildings, and can be seen only from the FDR Drive or the East River. Just inside the perimeter fence of the complex stands a line of flagpoles where the flags of all 193 UN member states, 2 observer states, plus the UN flag, are flown in English alphabetical order.
The General Assembly Building, housing the United Nations General Assembly, holds the General Assembly Hall, which has a seating capacity of 1,800. At 165 ft (50 m) long by 115 ft (35 m) wide, it is the largest room in the complex.
The Hall has two murals by the French artist Fernand Léger. At the front of the chamber is the rostrum containing the green marble desk for the President of the General Assembly, Secretary-General and Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services and matching lectern for speakers. Behind the rostrum is the UN emblem on a gold background. Flanking the rostrum is a paneled semi-circular wall that tapers as it nears the ceiling and surrounds the front portion of the chamber. In front of the paneled walls are seating areas for guests and within the wall are windows which allow interpreters to watch the proceedings as they work. The ceiling of the hall is 75 ft (23 m) high and surmounted by a shallow dome ringed by recessed light fixtures. The entrance to the hall bears an inscription from the Gulistan by Iranian poet Saadi.
Original plans called for the back wall of the General Assembly Hall, behind the rostrum, to be adorned with the seals of the sixty countries that were part of the UN in 1952. Though fifty-four seals were eventually completed, these plans were scrapped in 1955 because Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld felt they would distract from the purpose of the room. The General Assembly Hall was last altered in 1980 when capacity was increased to accommodate the increased membership. Each of the 192 delegations has six seats in the hall with three at a desk and three alternate seats behind them.
The second floor of the building houses the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) chamber, which was a gift from Sweden. It was designed by Sven Markelius and was renovated in 2013. This renovation added a set of curtains named "Dialogos" by Ann Edholm.
The Conference Building faces the East River between the General Assembly Building and the Secretariat. The Conference Building holds the Security Council Chamber, which was a gift from Norway and was designed by the Norwegian architect Arnstein Arneberg. The oil canvas mural depicting a phoenix rising from its ashes by Norwegian artist Per Krogh hangs at the front of the room.
The 39-story Secretariat Building was completed in 1952. It houses offices for the Secretary General, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Office of Disarmament Affairs, and the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM).
The library was founded with the United Nations in 1946. It was originally called the United Nations Library, later the United Nations International Library. In the late 1950s the Ford Foundation gave a grant to the United Nations for the construction of a new library building; Dag Hammarskjöld was also instrumental in securing the funding for the new building. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library was dedicated and renamed on November 16, 1961. The building was a gift from the Ford Foundation and is located next to the Secretariat at the southwest corner of the headquarters campus. The library holds 400,000 books, 9,800 newspapers and periodical titles, 80,000 maps and the Woodrow Wilson Collection containing 8,600 volumes of League of Nations documents and 6,500 related books and pamphlets. The library's Economic and Social Affairs Collection is housed in the DC-2 building.
While outside of the complex, the headquarters also includes two large office buildings that serve as offices for the agencies and programmes of the organization. These buildings, known as DC-1 and DC-2, are located at 1 and 2 UN Plaza respectively. DC1 was built in 1976. There is also an identification office at the corner of 46th Street, inside a former bank branch, where pre-accredited diplomats, reporters, and others receive their grounds passes. UNICEF House (3 UN Plaza) and the UNITAR Building (807 UN Plaza) are also part of headquarters. In addition, the Church Center for the United Nations (777 UN Plaza) is a private building owned by the United Methodist Church as an interfaith space housing the offices of several non-governmental organizations. The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is located at 380 Madison Avenue.
In October 2011 city and state officials announced an agreement in which the UN would be allowed to build a long-sought new office tower just south of the existing campus on the current Robert Moses Playground, which would be relocated. In exchange, the United Nations would allow the construction of an esplanade along the East River that would complete the East River Greenway, a waterfront pedestrian and bicycle pathway. While host nation authorities have agreed to the provisions of the plan, it needs the approval of the United Nations in order to be implemented. The plan is similar in concept to an earlier proposal that had been announced in 2000 but did not move forward.
The complex contains gardens, which were originally private gardens before being opened to the public in 1958. The complex is notable for its gardens and outdoor sculptures. Iconic sculptures include the "Knotted Gun", called Non-Violence, a statue of a Colt Python revolver with its barrel tied in a knot, which was a gift from the Luxembourg government  and Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a gift from the Soviet Union. The latter sculpture is the only appearance of the "swords into plowshares" quotation, from Isaiah 2:4, within the complex. Contrary to popular belief, the quotation is not carved on any UN building. Rather, it is carved on the "Isaiah Wall" of Ralph Bunche Park across First Avenue. A piece of the Berlin Wall also stands in the UN garden.
Other prominent artworks on the grounds include Peace - a Marc Chagall stained glass window memorializing the death of Dag Hammarskjöld - the Japanese Peace Bell which is rung on the vernal equinox and the opening of each General Assembly session, a Chinese ivory carving made in 1974 (before the ivory trade was largely banned in 1989), and a Venetian mosaic depicting Norman Rockwell's painting The Golden Rule. A full-size tapestry copy of Pablo Picasso's Guernica, by Jacqueline de la Baume Dürrbach, is on the wall of the United Nations building at the entrance to the Security Council room. In 1952, two Fernand Léger murals were installed in the General Assembly Hall. The works are meant to merely be decorative with no symbolism. One is said to resemble cartoon character Bugs Bunny and U.S. President Harry S. Truman dubbed the other work "Scrambled Eggs".
Two large murals by Brazilian artist Cândido Portinari, entitled Guerra e Paz (War and Peace) are located at the delegates hall. The works are a gift from the United Nations Association of the United States of America and Portinari intended to execute them in the United States. However, he was denied a visa due to his communist convictions and decided to paint them in Rio de Janeiro. They were later assembled in the headquarters. After their completion in 1957, Portinari, who was already ill when he started the masterpiece, succumbed to lead poisoning from the pigments his doctors advised him to abandon.
Due to the significance of the organization, proposals to relocate its headquarters have occasionally been made. Complainants about its current location include diplomats who find it difficult to obtain visas from the United States and local residents complaining of inconveniences whenever the surrounding roads are closed due to visiting dignitaries, as well as the high costs to the city. A US telephone survey in 2001 found that 67% of respondents favored moving the United Nations headquarters out of the country. Countries critical of the US, such as Iran and Russia, are especially vocal in questioning the current location of the United Nations, arguing that the United States government could manipulate the work of the General Assembly through selective access to politicians from other countries, with the aim of having an advantage over rival countries. In the wake of the Snowden global surveillance disclosures, the subject of the relocation of the UN headquarters was again discussed, this time for security reasons.
Critics of the relocation say that the idea would be expensive and would also involve the withdrawal of the United States from the organization, and with it much of the agency's funding. They also state that the proposals have never gone from being mere declarations.
Large scale protests, demonstrations, and other gatherings directly on First Avenue are rare. Some gatherings have taken place in Ralph Bunche Park, but it is too small to accommodate large demonstrations. The closest location where the New York City Police Department usually allows demonstrators is Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza at 47th Street and First Avenue, one block away from the visitors' entrance, four blocks away from the entrance used by top-level diplomats, and five blocks away from the general staff entrance.
Excluding gatherings solely for diplomats and academics, there are a few organizations which regularly hold events at the UN. The United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA), a non-governmental organization, holds an annual "member's day" event in one of the conference rooms. Model United Nations conferences sponsored by UNA-USA, the National Collegiate Conference Association (NCCA/NMUN), and the International Model UN Association (IMUNA/NHSMUN) hold part of their sessions in the General Assembly chamber. Seton Hall University's Whitehead School of Diplomacy hosts its UN summer study program at the headquarters as well.
Due to its role in international politics, the United Nations headquarters is often featured in movies and other pop culture. The only two films actually shot on location in the UN headquarters is The Glass Wall (1953) by legendary Hollywood writer/director/producer Ivan Tors and The Interpreter (2005) by director Sydney Pollack. When he was unable to obtain permission to film in the UN Headquarters, director Alfred Hitchcock covertly filmed Cary Grant arriving for the 1959 feature North by Northwest. After the action within the building, another scene shows Grant leaving across the plaza looking down from the building's roof. This was created using a painting. In the 1976 comedy film The Pink Panther Strikes Again, the building is vaporized by Dreyfus with a doomsday device. The final Roadblock of the 21st season of the American version of The Amazing Race also took place inside the gates of this building and had teams associating national flags with the different "hellos" and "goodbyes" they heard during the race.
In the first issue of Atomic War! published in November 1952, New York City is hit with a Soviet atomic bomb in 1960, the Headquarters of the United Nations, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building are all shown collapsing during the bombing of the city.