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The newly renovated United Nations building on the east side of Manhattan is the first update to the building since it opened in 1952. But an update is perhaps not quite the right term, because architect Michael Alderstein has more accurately restored the building to its original glory. The renovations, totaling $2.1 billion over six years, are predominantly on the infrastructure with the original International style aesthetics left mostly untouched. We recently took a tour of the renovations over Open House New York weekend with the architects, learning among many things that the U.N. has its own police and fire department, as well as postal department. When you enter the U.N. building, you essentially leave America and enter international territory.

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Inside the General Assembly Hall, where members of the 193 member states gather to discuss international issues, the copper dome used to leak. It’s now repaired, fixing original design flaws. It used to be covered with a “gooey substance” of cigar and cigarette smoke that accumulated over more than 60 years. Delegates used to smoke inside the General Assembly Hall. with the 2003 New York City smoking ban irrelevant since the U.N. is in the international zone.In November 2008, the General Assembly passed a resolution banning smoking and tobacco sales in the UN headquarters, but delegates from certain member states who did not support the decision continued smoking. Today, all countries have finally come to agreement to end smoking inside the building.

United Nations_NYC_Untapped Cities_bhushan mondkar_6The gold leafed background behind the UN emblem has also been replaced. 

The General Assembly hall also has a new state of art electronics and speaker system. There are simultaneous translations in 6 official languages of the UN- English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese.

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The building is much more energy efficient now, consuming just half the energy it used to with new heating ventilation and cooling systems. There was so much asbestos taken out during the renovations that it could fill three football fields 15 feet high! The glass facade in the image below prevents heat gain in summer, while new lights are mostly LED.

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Entrance hall:

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The corridor below is usually full of sculptures and exhibitions. This is a rare time when the corridor is completely empty, awaiting  the sculptures to be brought back:

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And it wouldn’t be an architecture of politics if there weren’t upgrades to security. Qatar recently donated a lounge (called the East Lounge) to the UN building that cantilevers over the FDR Drive, overlooking the East River and Four Freedoms Park. It is heavily reinforced (construction wise) for safety, making it terror proof since it sits above a public highway. It’s intended as a space to host important diplomatic talks and also as a place to relax and rest for delegate members.

Also check out the brand new Albertine bookstore in the French Embassy of Cultural Services, formerly the Payne Whitney Mansion on Fifth Avenue.