The United Nations was founded in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations, and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.
With currently 193 Member States and two Permanent Observers – the flags of which fly along 1stAvenue in New York City - the United Nations is the only truly global Organization addressing challenges that cannot be tackled by one country alone. Working across the three inter-connected pillars of peace, development, and human rights, the United Nations system encompasses over thirty Agencies, Funds, Programmes and related entities.
The UN has evolved over the years to keep pace with a rapidly changing world. But one thing has stayed the same: it remains the one place on Earth where all the world’s nations can come together, discuss common problems, and find shared solutions that benefit all of humanity.
At its first session in 1946, the General Assembly decided to accept an offer by the United States to locate the newly formed Organization’s Headquarters in the country. The site in Midtown Manhattan – a rundown area of slaughterhouses and light industry – was purchased thanks to a donation by John D. Rockefeller Jr.
An international team of acclaimed architects (including Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer) came together in a “Workshop for Peace” to design the United Nations Headquarters, a gem of “International Style” imbued with meaning and purpose.
The compound embodies the essence of the Organization and its ideals are expressed in the buildings: the glass facades allow the public to look into the building, representing transparency; the internal balconies from the public areas overlook the second floor, reminding for delegates that the UN is accountable to the people of the world. United Nations Headquarters was built to be home for all nations, with no decorations or dominant colours, and with public access in mind.
Construction began on UN Day (24 October) 1949 and was completed in 1952. Since then, the iconic buildings have gracefully “hovered” over the East River, using the natural landscape to emphasize the brilliance of the “glass curtain” wall of the Secretariat (the first of its kind in Manhattan), like a beacon of light to the world.
UN Headquarters hosts an impressive art collection, made up of donations and gifts from countries, individuals and foundations over the years. For more on UN gifts, see UN Gifts website.
For more on UN Headquarters, see our factsheet or join us for an architecture tour!
The Visitor Centre
Guided Tours have been offered at UN Headquarters ever since the buildings opened in 1952. Each year, approximately one million visitors from around the world come to visit the United Nations.
Today, the Visitor Centre is your entry point into the international world of global diplomacy. Book a guided tour of the UN Headquarters, visit the exhibits, learn more about the art in public spaces, browse the UN Bookshop, ask a question, purchase a souvenir and send a post card with a UN stamp.
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